It is very simple to get a copy of a veteran’s military record. You fill out a “Request Pertaining to Military Records SF 180”, print it, sign it, and mail it in.
It does sound simple, doesn’t it? But there are some things you should consider first. The Freedom of Information Act FOIA limits who may receive such records and how much detail these records reveal. You should also realize that the request becomes public domain (as opposed to copyright) and any one can use it for any reason. That is – your request becomes public domain, not the Military Records.
With those in mind, let’s forge ahead. I’m sure your first instinct will be to do an internet search for the correct form. Beware – you need to use the most recent form because it supersedes any previous forms. The most current form can be found at www.archives.gov/research/order/standard-form-180.pdf
You’ll need the ability to read an Adobe file, a printer, plus an ink pen. The completed form must be signed by hand. An old-fashioned notion in this paperless society – but it’s the law; Federal Law 5 USC 522a(b) to be exact.
You can request your own files, or the files of your next of kin, or one of your relatives, or a total stranger. You don’t have to give a reason for your request, and failure to state a reason cannot be used to deny your request. However, giving a reason for your request may help expedite the matter. Reasons listed on the most current SF180 are: benefits, employment, VA loan program, medical, medals/awards, genealogy, correction, personal, and other. You cannot use this form to verify military service for any employee. As an employer, you should accept the separation documents (DD214) at face value.
You will need to know as much of the following information on the veteran as possible: name, social security, dates and places of birth, service number, active, reserve and/or national guard service dates, branch of service, and date of death if applicable. You must also attach either an undeleted or deleted report of separation (DD214 or equivalent) if you are not requesting the actual DD214. (Yes, I had to read that twice myself.) The difference between deleted and undeleted is similar to abridged – where certain information is left out (deleted), and unabridged (undeleted). If you are trying to establish benefits eligibility, you will need the undeleted DD214.
You must indicate who you are: next of kin, legal guardian, or the veteran him/herself and a mailing address. Once you have all this information typed into the form, double-check it, because you cannot save the information on the form itself. Then print out two copies – one for your files, and one to sign and mail. You can mail it to the specific branch listed at the bottom of the form or to the National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records, 9700 Page Ave., St. Louis, MO 63132-5100.
The records themselves take anywhere between three and seven months to be filed at the National Personnel Records Center, so you would need to wait for at least that long after the person has left active as well as reserve duty.
For information after 1973, the wait time is usually ten days, even though they receive about 4,000 requests a day. If the information is from before 1973, it may take up to six months (there was a fire in 1973 ...) All in all, the average wait time is about three weeks.
If you are looking for records prior to WWI, you will need to fill out the National Archives Trust Fund form from National Archives & Records Admin., Old Military and Civil Records, (NWCTB- Military), Textual Services Division, 700 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. Washington, DC 20408-0001
For other helpful articles about genealogy, don’t forget to check BellaOnline’s Genealogy site.