Veterans Military Records

 

How to Obtain Veterans Military Records

Primary Records Sources

For most veterans military records requests, you will want to request records from:

a) National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records (NPRC-MPR), a component of the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration; and

b) Veterans Health Administration (Department of Veterans Affairs).

You can request records online or via postal mail for each of these two primary records sources. What follows are my recommendations for the best methods to obtain records, which records to request, and related details.

Note that I designed these recommendations for veterans disability compensation claims (and appeals) for PTSD and other mental disorders, although most of what I write below applies to nonpsychiatric medical claims as well. 

– Table of Contents –

National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records
Request Veterans Military Records Using Standard Form 180
Suggestions for Completing the SF-180
No Printer?
Online Records Requests – Veterans Military Records – eVetRecs
VA Medical Records
VA Medical Center – Release of Information Office – Written Requests
Vet Center Records
Recently Discharged Veterans
Private Medical and Mental Health Records
Vocational Rehabilitation
Any Mistakes?
What Would You Recommend?

National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records (NPRC-MPR)

This section reviews the options for requesting a veteran’s military personnel records and service medical records stored by the NPRC-MPR, which stores most Army personnel records, Navy personnel records, Marine Corps records, Air Force personnel records, and Coast Guard records. 

In the 1990s, the service branches began transferring military medical records to the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs), e.g., Army medical records as of 16 Oct 1992, and Navy medical records as of 31 Jan 1994. Information about requesting medical records from the VA is below. 

When I started researching the various methods for requesting veterans military records, I thought the online method, eVetRecs, would be the easiest and fastest. But after I went through the steps required, I found that eVetRecs is not very user-friendly, and I could easily see making a mistake unless I was extremely careful.

I offer some suggestions and tips for using eVetRecs below, but I recommend using Standard Form 180 since it’s easier to complete.  

Request Veterans Military Records Using Standard Form 180

Click here to download the SF-180 in PDF format.1 You can then print the form, fill it out, sign it, and mail it to the correct address for you–located on page 2 of the form. (It’s the really the third page, but they do not count the instructions page.)

You might also want to review the information about the SF-180 Form on the NPRC-MPR website.

Address to send the SF-180: Review the tables on page 2 of the SF-180 to find the correct mailing address for you, and send the completed form to the address identified on the table.

Note that you can type your responses directly in the SF-180, and then print it out. Just be careful not to leave the page before you print it, or you will probably lose what you typed in. To prevent this problem, download the form, save it to your computer (use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-S, or ⌘-S on a Mac), and then type your responses into your local copy.  When I fill in such PDF forms, I save the form every couple of minutes, just in case.  

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Tips for Completing the SF-180

These suggestions are for SECTION II of the SF-180, “INFORMATION AND/OR DOCUMENTS REQUESTED.”

You are first asked to “CHECK THE ITEM(S) YOU ARE REQUESTING” – Note that if you already have a copy of your DD-214, you do not need to check the first box, “DD Form 214 or equivalent.” If you do need a copy, check that box, and for the part that asks for “Year(s) in which form(s) issued to veteran”, type (or write) in the year(s) you were discharged. (Many Reserve and National Guard members will have two or more DD-214s.)

Note that the form states:

An UNDELETED copy will be sent UNLESS YOU SPECIFY A DELETED COPY by checking this box: I want a DELETED copy.

Please do not request a DELETED copy as the VA, Board of Veterans Appeals, and anyone analyzing your claim will need to review the UNDELETED copy of your DD-214.

The next line on the SF-180 asks you to list any medical records you wish to request.

Medical Records Includes Service Treatment Records, Health (outpatient) and Dental Records. IF HOSPITALIZED (inpatient) the FACILITY NAME and DATE (month and year) for EACH admission MUST be provided:

Options for the Medical Records Request Section

There three options to consider for this part of the form:

Option 1) If you never received any mental health (including substance abuse) evaluations or treatment, then type (or write) something like, “All Service Treatment Records, including all Health (outpatient) records” (without the quote marks). You might also want to add, “I do not need Dental Records” (without the quotes). [Unless you are filing a dental claim, in which case you would definitely want them!]

Option 2) If you did receive mental health (including substance abuse) evaluations or treatment, or if you think you might have, type (or write) the following:

To copy the text in the box above: Right-click in the box > Select All > Right-click again > Copy.  Or use keyboard shortcuts: Click once in the box > Ctrl-A > Ctrl-C. 

Note: The text in the box above is simply a suggestion for veterans who are filing or appealing a claim for PTSD or other mental disorders. It is not an official list of required records.

Option 3) If you received inpatient (or residential) psychiatric or substance abuse treatment, include everything in Option 2, and, in addition, specify the Facility Name and Date (month and year) for each inpatient admission. Include as much as you can remember if you are not sure.  

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Other

The next line on the SF-180 is ‘Other’. Here are three options to consider typing or writing in this field–the text in italics is my suggestion of what to consider writing in the ‘Other’ field. The best option depends on your situation, e.g., type of original claim or appeal; records already in your possession; time frame; etc. Also ask your veterans service officer or attorney for advice. 

i) Key documents and extracts from my Official Military Personnel File. See the Special Notice Regarding Service Record Requests for background information.

ii) Key documents and extracts from my Official Military Personnel File, and any available Performance Evaluations. Performance evaluations can constitute behavioral markers in military sexual trauma (MST) claims. In addition, if you believe that a record of declining performance during military service will support your disability compensation claim, then you should request copies of your performance evaluations. At the same time, keep in mind that, in general, the more your request, the longer it will take to receive all requested records.

iii) All my military records–each and every document in my Official Military Personnel File.  See the Special Notice Regarding Service Record Requests and Response Time and Checking the Status of a Request for the NPRC-MPR statement regarding a request for all records. Advantage of requesting all records: It’s what the Veterans Benefits Administration receives. Disadvantage: In general, the more your request, the longer it will take to receive all requested records. 

No Printer?

First, note that almost all public libraries in the United States provide computers and printers for use by the public. Click here to search for the closest public library to you.

If a public library is not a good option for you, and you cannot print out the SF-180, you can obtain the form…

From Federal Information Centers –  That link takes you to an online directory of Federal Information Centers. Use the filters on the left side of the page to narrow your search, e.g., by State. Note that as soon as you click a specific filter, the list of centers on the right will change to list only those specified by the filter you selected. For example, when I clicked on NC under the State filter, the list changed from 1112 federal info centers to the 26 centers located within North Carolina. Also, be aware that not every center is open to the public. Check the Reference Services Availability section for each center.

From local Department of Veterans Affairs offices – That link takes you to a search form on the VA website. I suggest using your zip code to search; leaving the default setting for All Types; and selecting Nearest 10 facilities (or Nearest 25 facilities if you live in a densely populated area). Here is an example:

Find VA Facilities form

From veterans service organizations – That link opens up Google search results for “find veterans service organization near me” (works amazingly well).

Note: Federal forms like the SF-180, may be photocopied as needed.

As a last resort, you can write to the NPRC to request an SF-180 form. Send your request to:

NATIONAL PERSONNEL RECORDS CENTER
1 ARCHIVES DR
SAINT LOUIS MO 63138-1002

Alternative to the SF-180 for Written Requests

If you choose to not use Standard Form 180, you can write a letter to request veterans military records

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Online Records Requests – eVetRecs

You can obtain veterans military records online via eVetRecs (electronic Veterans Records), provided by the United States National Archives and Records Administration, National Personnel Records Center.

To obtain your Army personnel records, Navy personnel records, Marine Corps records, Air Force personnel records, and Coast Guard records via the online method, follow these steps:

eVetRecs – Preparation

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

First, read the overview and instructions.1

Second, scan the Help and FAQ page, and keep it open in case you run into a snag.

Third, proceed to the eVetRecs website to enter your information and request your military personnel records.

When you arrive on the eVetRecs website, note the warning near the top that says, “Please do NOT create multiple, separate requests for each of the menu selections available in Step 2 as that may delay the handling of your request. Briefly clarify your request in the comments field.” We will come back to that caution when we get to Step 3.

Unless you really like legalese, you do not need to read rest of the very small fine print on the eVetRecs landing page. Just click on “Continue”:

eVetRecs Main (Start) page

You will then be taken to Step 1 of the eVetRecs process. Assuming you are the veteran requesting his or her own records, you should make the following selections on the Step 1 page:

eVetRecs - Step 1

(If you are still on active duty, select that option in #3.)

After making those selections, look way over to the very far right side of the page and click “Continue”:

eVetRecs - Step 1 - Continue

 

You will then be taken to Step 2 of the eVetRecs process. Select the appropriate options from the first three drop-down menus. For option #4, select Medical:

eVetRecs Step 2 Medical options

 

Option #5 is where it begins to get a bit complicated. There is no one best way to proceed, but here is what makes the most sense to me:

i) If you received inpatient mental health treatment, select Inpatient Treatment Records;

ii) If you did not receive inpatient mental health treatment, but you did see a military psychologist, psychiatrist, clinical social worker, or substance abuse counselor for outpatient mental health or substance abuse treatment, select  Mental Health Clinic Records;

iii) If you never received any type of mental health or substance abuse treatment, counseling, or evaluation, select Outpatient Treatment Records.

Then click “Continue” on that page (on the right side of the page).

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Complete the information requested on the next page, which looks like this:

If you do not know your Service Number, type in “Unknown.” [Note that none of the military branches have used service numbers as an identifier since at least 1975. Click here for exact dates.] When you are done, click “Continue” (on the right side of the page), which will take you to the all-important “Documents Requested” page, which looks like this: 

Documents Requested page for Step 3 of eVetRecs

The “Documents Requested” page is important because this is where you need to type in all the documents you want in the Comments box. Before that though, note that you should  keep the default selection as “I would like to request an UNDELETED Report of Separation.” (In other words, you do not need to change that part as it is pre-selected for the UNDELETED Report of Separation, which is the one you want.)

You then want to fill in the Comments block. Note the message next to the Comments section that says, “Please do not use the Enter key.” Using the Enter key would be the usual way to separate your list of documents. Since you cannot do that, I would use / forward slashes /  or  | vertical lines |  to separate each document (either one should work fine). 

By the way, this is where the warning on the eVetRecs landing page applies. As you might recall, that warning said,  “Please do NOT create multiple, separate requests for each of the menu selections available in Step 2 as that may delay the handling of your request. Briefly clarify your request in the comments field.” You certainly do not want a “delay in handling your request”!

Therefore, you want to request whatever the most relevant medical records are in Step 2, Option 5, as I suggested above. Then you need to request everything else by typing it into the Comments block. 

You might want to ask your Veterans Service Officer (representative) if he or she has any recommendations regarding specific records to request, but here is what I suggest you request. I have written the following list in a format that you can copy-and-paste into the Comments form on the eVetRecs site. (Right-click in the box > Select All > Right-click again > Copy … or: Place your cursor in the box > Ctrl-A > Ctrl-C).

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VA Medical Records 

Blue Button Download from MyHealtheVet

You can download almost all of your VA medical records using the Blue Button feature on MyHealtheVet (pronounced ‘my healthy vet’).  The only exceptions are Vet Center records (see below), and medical records from before about 2003 (exact date varies from one VAMC to another). {VA Lingo: VAMC = Veterans Affairs Medical Center}

VA Medical Center – Release of Information Office – Written Requests

If you cannot use MyHealtheVet Blue Button to download copies of your VA medical records you will need to request them from the Release of Information Office at each VA medical center where you received treatment. {VA Lingo: Release of Information Office = ROI or the ROI office.}

Complete VA Form 10-5345a (Individuals’ Request for a Copy of their Own Health Information), and mail it to the Release of Information Office at the VA medical center(s) where you received medical care.

Or go to the medical center and request your records in person. At the front desk, ask for directions to the Release of Information Office. The ROI Office has the forms, which you can complete there, so you do not have to download them.

Try to find the exact address for the Release of Information Office, e.g., room number, mailing code, building number–every VA medical center is different so the specifics will vary. But using the exact address might help your letter reach the office faster.

To find the Release of Information Office exact mailing address, search Google or Bing for the VA medical center. Then, on the left nav bar (navigation menu), go to: Patients & Visitors > Patient Information > Request Your Medical Records. This works for most VA medical centers but not all of them, and the VA website search engine is horrible. Therefore you may have to call the medical center to find the mailing address for the Release of Information Office. 

If you mail your completed VA Form 10-5345a via the Postal Service, consider using one of the following options. These descriptions are quoted directly from the USPS website, on the Insurance & Extra Services page.

Certified Mail® – Prove you sent it. See when it was delivered or that a delivery attempt was made, and get the signature of the person who accepts the mailing when combined with Return Receipt. Purchase at your Post Office. Present for mailing to a Postal employee if a postmarked sender’s receipt is requested. Combine with Return Receipt to get electronic or physical delivery record showing the recipient’s signature.

Signature Confirmation™ – Find out information about the date and time an item was delivered, or when a delivery attempt was made. Add security by requiring a signature. A delivery record is kept by USPS and available electronically or by email, upon request. Purchase online or at your Post Office depending on the mail class chosen. [Note: You need to send it Priority Mail to use Signature Confirmation™, i.e., you cannot send it via Standard Mail.]

Certificate of Mailing – Have evidence that you send the item when you say you did. This official record shows the date your mail was presented to USPS for mailing.

If you send your completed  VA Form 10-5345a via FedEx or UPS, you should receive proof of delivery, although those services probably cost more than the USPS. 

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Vet Center Records

Vet Center records must be requested directly from the Vet Center where you received counseling. 

You will not receive Vet Center records when you request your medical records from a VA medical center’s Release of Information (ROI) Office.

Your Vet Center records are not on MyHealtheVet.

The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) does not routinely seek out Vet Center records because most veterans have not been to a Vet Center. However, a lot of veterans with PTSD have sought counseling a Vet Center, and those records could prove very helpful to your claim

Use the Vet Center locator to find contact information for any Vet Center(s) where you have received counseling. 

Call the Vet Center for advice on how to best obtain your records, e.g., if you live close enough, it might be faster to simply visit the Vet Center. Otherwise, mail VA Form 10-5345a to the Vet Center to request your records. 

Recently Discharged Veterans

TRICARE – If applicable, request medical records from TRICARE.

Military Hospitals and Clinics – Request paper copies of your medical records from each military hospital or clinic records office where you received medical (including mental health) care. If it’s been more than two years since your last appointment, request copies of your records from the National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records (NPRC-MPR).

Military OneSource – If you were referred off-base to a private psychologist, counselor, or psychiatrist while on active duty, you need to contact that doctor or therapist directly to request your records. Those records are usually not in your STRs (Service Treatment Records), also known as SMRs (Service Medical Records).

Civilian Doctors – You must request a copy of your medical records from each individual health care provider you have visited. You may be responsible for any fees charged for copying or mailing medical records. Active duty service members are not responsible for any fees charged for copying or mailing medical records. 

Private Medical and Mental Health Records 

Since your discharge from military service, if you saw a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, substance abuse counselor, neurologist, rehabilitation medicine doctor (physiatrist), or primary care physician in the private sector, you need to request copies of those treatment records.  You must request those medical records directly from the doctor’s office. You can sign consent forms and ask VBA to do it for you, but you might be able to get them faster yourself. Self-reliance pays off. The same applies if you went to rehab, or were hospitalized in a psychiatric unit or hospital. 

Vocational Rehabilitation

If you participated in state vocational rehabilitation program, or a VA voc rehab program, it usually helps support your claim or appeal if you obtain those records. Note that the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) runs the vocational rehabilitation programs for VA, not the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). 

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Any Mistakes?

If you see any errors in what I have written above, please comment (reply) below, and I will correct them. – Thank you! 

What would you recommend?

Do you have any recommendations for obtaining veterans military records or VA medical records? If so, please comment (reply) below! 


Footnotes
1. PDF = Portable Document Format. You probably already have software on your computer that allows you to read PDF documents, but if not, the U.S. Census Bureau has a succinct, helpful guide to PDF, including links to download the software for reading PDF files. 

2. Please note the following, from the Help and FAQ page: “Print, sign and date the signature verification area of your customized form. If you don’t have a printer, have a pen and paper handy and we will guide you through the process. This is important because the Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. 552a) requires that all requests for records and information be submitted in writing.”

Note the part that says, If you don’t have a printer, have a pen and paper handy and we will guide you through the process. What they mean is that when you get to that step in the eVetRecs process, the web page will give you instructions for submitting signed permission for the National Personnel Records Center to release your military personnel file to you. Essentially you mail them a short letter, signed and dated by you (the veteran), saying “Yes, send me the records I requested online via eVetRecs.” (But be sure to follow their specific instructions.)

Of course, if you have a printer, you can simply print out the form, sign it, and mail it in. (Follow the instructions on the eVetRecs website when you get to that step.)

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