The success of your VA compensation claim(s) is often dependent on how successful you are in locating records critical to proving these claims. This is especially true if you have more historical claims or are on older veteran. Here the challenge is locating service treatment records or other records that go the essence of you what you need to prove in your case. Below are some strategies and agencies to consult when you need to find the records to prove your case. VA cases are obviously paper driven and to prove your case you need to find the relevant documents. It is true that the VA does technically need to help you find your records, however there are also ideas on how to get these records yourself which may reduce the time needed to win your case.
Will the VA help me to find my records?
Technically yes. Under the Veterans Claims Assistance Act the VA must "make reasonable efforts to obtain relevant records". This is regardless if the records are help privately or by other federal sources. The claimant only needs to "adequately identify" the record and give VA permission to obtain those records. The VA actually has the duty to put forth an effort so strong that any further effort would be "futile".
What the VA must technically do and what they may actively do could be two different things. The Veteran may rely on these rules and force the VA to obtain these records. Practically, it often makes sense to get these records yourself not only because it will save you a significant amount of time in terms of claim processing, but also often the VA effort to get these records may be less than a full effort. Not because the VA doesn't care or isn't required, but its simply an issue of staffing constraints. Still though this VA duty is a powerful rule since it can often be the basis for appeal since under the Veteran's Claim Assistance Act they are required to get these records and often do not. This duty is implicated under 38 U.S.C. 5103A.
The in person option for VA medical records
Most often you can go to your local VA hospital and get the medical records direct from the records department.
Requesting VA Medical Records Online
You can register and verify your identity by going through authentication at the VA's medical record portal. Go to www.myhealth.va.gov.
Military and Service Treatment Records
The service treatment records are often found in your C file but sometimes not due to a fire in the St. Louis archival fire in the early 1970s. These records are stored at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Mo. This center generally houses service personnel and medical records. However, they do not house the inpatient service records if those exist. Most of these records are not electronic but are instead paper records. The service treatment records usually include outpatient (but not inpatient records) if those are applicable in a veteran's case. It is very important to determine whether inpatient records are relevant in your case. Any records relevant to in service incurrence of an injury are relevant as well as any discharge exam that was conducted.
Online Requests to the NPRC
Records can be requested online.
A written signature is required when requesting your records online. You can mail, or fax the signature to the address you are given after requesting the records. A next of kin may request records this way, but a living veteran must request records using the standard form 180. It is important to remember that inpatient records, combat records, or other records will likely not be sent if they are not specifically requested. If you need these records then you need to specifically indicate where or which hospital you need records from and the specific dates.
If the veteran has an attorney the request can be returned to either if the veteran signs section III.3. If after 3-6 weeks no response is given then another request marked as such should be sent. Or if an incomplete response is sent back the problem should be explained in a letter. You can check status of the request by calling (314) 801-0800.
Mailed Requests to the NPRC
You can request the records by mail using Standard Form 180.
You will need access to a printer and Adobe Acrobat Reader software in order to print and fill out the three-page request. Review the tables on page three to locate the address in which you need to send the request. The location is based on branch of service, dates of separation, and the type of record you are requesting.
You can fax the Standard Form 180 to 314-801-9195.
Is there a cost for my records?
Usually there is no cost for basic military personnel and medical records information. If there is a cost, they will contact you. Requesting official military personnel files by mail or fax is $25 flat if the records are under five pages. For records that are six pages or more the cost could be $70.00. Most records are six or more pages. For persons of exceptional prominence, war heroes, political leaders, cultural figures, celebrities, or entertainers, the cost is $.80 per page ($20 minimum). Not all records are available to the public, and some are not available in digital format. The cost ranges from $20-$250.
These fees may not apply though! Make sure you request fee waivers pursuant to the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). 32 C.F.R 286.28(d) or 310.20(d). There is also a specific provision for homeless veterans so they can get expedited treatment of their DD 214. This request can be faxed to 314-801-9195.