Finding and Reconstructing Military Records

Introduction #

It is advisable to speak with a county director of veterans affairs or a county, state, or veterans organization  “accredited” veterans service officer if you are seeking to reconstruct your military records of any sort incident to the filing of a claim.  It may save you considerable time and effort.

While service policies have changed over time (especially in the storage of medical records), the first source for finding military records is the National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records (NPRC-MPR) in St. Louis, which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

And when records can not be found (e.g. as the result of the 1973 fire at NARA), it does not mean that records can not be reconstructed by the government.

Obtaining a DD Form 214 or Reconstructing Basic Service Information #

If you have lost your DD Form 214 — and have not kept a copy in a bank vault or with the County Director of Veterans Affairs or Recorder of Deeds (depends upon your county), first contact an accredited service officer, a VA benefits counselor, a social worker or your case manager, if you have one.  What is written below is to explain the system to those who are required to do the legwork themselves because there is no other way.

The principal portal for veterans records is  More specifically, to obtain a copy of a DD Forms 214 use  Normally the form can be obtained in about ten working days. Other methods for doing this are found here.

While service policies have changed over time, the first source for finding military records is indeed the National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records (NPRC-MPR) in St. Louis, which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The effect of the fire of 1973 is discussed here. Not all military services were affected equally. The Navy and Marine Corps lost no records in the fire. For those affected, no duplicate copies of these records were ever maintained, nor were microfilm copies produced. Neither were any indexes created prior to the fire. Millions of documents had been lent to the Department of Veterans Affairs before the fire occurred. Consequently a single,  complete listing of the records that were lost is not available. Nevertheless, in the years following the fire, the NPRC collected numerous series of records (referred to as Auxiliary Records) that are used to reconstruct basic service information.

Fire or no fire, the center can normally reconstruct basic service information. When proof of military service is needed, NPRC-MPR attempts to reconstruct certain basic service data from alternate records that are in its holdings, but other times it must work with other agencies to stitch the record together.  In which case, it may take several weeks to a month to complete the task.  The result will be a NA Form 13038, “Certification of Military Service”, which is  considered the equivalent of a Form DD-214, “Report of Separation From Active Duty”.   Consequently, it can used to establish eligibility for veterans benefits.

The VA Records Center and Vault , part of the Veterans Health Administration of the VA, is not the place to go when seeking military personnel and medical records.  While some VA Medical Center records are stored there, they are usually archived by medical facility name and not by the individual’s name and are not released to the individuals, even if the records could be found.

Avoid or be careful about online businesses saying they are there to help. For more on that subject consult this Lackawanna County link.

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Finding Military Personnel and Medical Files #

Veterans who plan to file a claim for medical benefits with the VA do not need to request a copy of their military health record from NPRC-MPR.  After a claim is filed, the  original health records are provided by the Center or the appropriate military service when requested by the VA.  As mentioned, actually many health records were lent to the Department of Veterans Affairs prior to the 1973 fire. Veterans who are filing a medical claim for the first time should ask their service officer to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in order to determine if their record is already on file.

That does not mean you should not include a portion of the applicable medical records that affect your claim. It may expedite the process. Discuss this with your service officer.  Otherwise, you must call the 1-800-827-1000 number.  It is also why most veterans today are counseled to obtain a complete copy of their medical records before leaving the service.

For an overview of the records stored at the National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records (NPRC-MPR), click here.

The military services many years ago began to change the way they store medical and health records.  Currently the vast majority are still stored at the VA Records Management Center (VA-RMC).  With time that will change.  To find these records, click here.

Getting VA Medical Records from the VA #

A website called MyHealtheVet uses the power of the Internet to provide health care information to its patients. Among its features, veterans are now able to receive their complete medical records from VA online.

If that does not work or you prefer not to use that method and if you receive treatment at a VA Medical Center, contact the Release of Information Officer or the Medical Records Transfer Clerk at the facility where you received treatment. If your records have been sent for archiving, only that facility has authority to request the return of the records for dissemination. You can find locations and phone numbers for all VA hospitals at the VA facility locator website (or use this alternative VA locator site).

Obtaining Birth, Death, Marriage and Divorce Records #

The  National Center for Health Statistics, an agency of the Center for Disease Control, that provides a useful site for where to write to obtain birth, marriage, divorce, and death certificates in every state and possession of the United States.

In Pennsylvania it is the Division of Vital Records found in the Department of Health which maintains records of births and deaths that occurred in Pennsylvania from 1906 to the present.  These vital records are not open to public inspection.  The Division of Vital Records issues certified copies of birth and death with the raised seal that are acceptable for numerous uses:  passport, Social Security, employment, insurance benefits, etc. The site also discusses how to obtain records prior to 1906, when necessary.

In Pennsylvania, Marriage and Divorce Records are another matter again. They are not available from the Division of Vital Records. They are usually obtained from the courthouse in the county where the marriage license was issued or divorce decree was granted. Please click here to access a list with addresses and phone numbers for Pennsylvania’s county courthouses.

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Last update: 10 September 2022



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