When Active Duty Medical Records Become "Lost"

Dear Veteran,

I am sorry to inform you that the reason you have not heard anything from us in 14 months is because your active duty medical records have become lost.  At this time, there is nothing we can do.  Sorry, you’re S.O.L.


The VA.


Now, that was not a quote, or a real letter, but the scenario is very likely familiar to many veterans who have been trying to have a medical benefits or disability compensation claim approved, but have run into delay after delay after delay until finally they are told that the paperwork, be it the initial claim, service records, medical history, or any other bit of paperwork is lost.

As an initial forewarning to anyone who will be submitting a claim in the future, send the VA a copy of your records, never ever send your originals.  Even if you are told, for some reason, that only the “original doctor’s report will be vaild.”  That is why we have notary publics.  Go to a bank, make a copy, have the notary certify the copy.  Often, banks will do this for free or only a few dollars for account holders, and for a small $5-$10 fee for non account holders.

Here is an important date: October 16, 1992.  Why is this important?  The way that active duty medical records were archived upon the servicemember’s discharge changed in this year.  The Army began the trend, and the other services followed suit within the following years.

If you ended service before these dates, it is quite easy to gain a copy of your active duty medical records because they are contained within your personnel file with the National Archives.  You can make an online request, or print and mail in a form to the National Archives to receive a copy of your records.  The records are free for veterans or their next of kin.

The following are the dates for each branch of service.

Army, all components: October 16, 1992

Air Force, Active Duty: May 1, 1994

Air Force, Reserve and National Guard: June 1, 1994

Navy, all components: January 31, 1994

Marine Corps, all components: May 1, 1994

Coast Guard, active duty and reservists with 90 days of active duty service for training: April 1, 1998.


It has been two decades since 1992, and a lot of veterans became, well, veterans, in that time.  For them, it is not quite as easy to find another copy of active duty medical records.  There are a few avenues of approach though, some requiring more work than others.

When you are told, “your records are lost,” the first thing you may wonder is how it is possible to lose a physical object that has a set route, and this same route is taken by hundreds of thousands of similar objects all the time.  Therefore, isn’t the process somewhat foolproof by now?  Apparently not.  Your first option though, is to start at the very beginning of your claim process.  Gather the information you have about the date you submitted your request, and to what office.  Call that office directly.  Inquire about any confirmation records they may have that your claim was submitted, as well as any records as to where it when.  Get the contact information for where your claim went.  Call that office and repeat the process.  If the trail seems pretty clear until suddenly someone says “we don’t have a record of you at all, to us you don’t exist.”  You have likely found the disconnect in the processing of your claim.  Either the previous place never actually sent them, or the clueless office never received them, or, even more absurd, the clueless office might have received them and, by oversight, not recorded receiving them, and therefore your claim is languishing in some pile that hasn’t been looked through.  If you have the fortitude to pursue this avenue of searching, you deserve a medal.

The next less tongue-in-cheek method of finding a copy of your active duty medical records is to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs Records Management Center in St. Louis, Missouri.  After the dates listed above, the service branches began sending the medical records of their former members to this VA Records Management Center.  As a quote from the archives.gov website, which handles the military personnel records, the responsibility for finding your active duty medical records rests completely on the VA

…the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Records Management Center , St. Louis, MO, maintains the active duty health records or manages their whereabouts when on loan within the VA.  Call the VA toll free number at 1-800-827-1000 to identify the current location of specific health records and to find out how to obtain releasable documents or information.

It is much more likely that this Records Management Center will be able to help you find your lost records than just a small city office.

So in brief, don’t take “we lost them” as the final answer.  There are ways to find those lost medical records.


Photo thanks to Claire_Sambrook under creative common license on Flickr.

5 thoughts on “When Active Duty Medical Records Become "Lost"”

  1. i sent away for my active duty medical records from the vietnam era. first no answer. and i reordered the records and got my personnell records but not medical records. then i reordered my medical records from st. louis and then got a letter saying the records were not located there and may have been loaned out to the va. ok if that is so where is the paper trail. wouln’t they know if they were loaned out or not. besides wouldn’t they have sent a copy not the original. i was a personnelman in the navy and had to keep records of every bit of paper work and where it went. this is the systematic way of denying benifits they don’t want to pay. just like agent orange for twenty years. why doesn’t the system want to take care of the ones that went to vietnam. we didn’t want to go but were drafted and went without the support of our government or the people. i hope we never have another war that no one wants to support.

  2. I was in Viet Nam before the USA was sanctioned to be in Viet Nam in the early 1960’s. I was on the John Hancock 1962-1963. I am 67 and have PTSD and have put my family thru alot of stressful situations. I received Therapy at the Saint Cloud VA. I applied for benefits when I retired due to a anxiety disorder from the PTSD, Hearing loss, and a skin condition. I had never applied for benefits before because I felt lucky that I have all my extremeties although my family has encouraged me to apply due to the increase symptoms returning since I retired and at times have difficulty handling situations. I was shot while extracting from Vietnam, buttocks area . The Va stated that they where unable to find any records from my enlistment.

  3. Here’s a good one for you all. For months now the VA tells me they don’t have my medical records, so I contact the records archive 2 weeks ago to request them. I get a letter today stating “We do not have your records. Your records are forwarded to the Department of Veterans Affairs after you leave service. Please contact your Veterans Affairs Regional Office to request a copy of your records.”

    Hmmm…so I call the VA hotline and tell them they have my records based on the letter I received but again they tell me they don’t have them. So what do I do now? VA says without my records they cannot move forward on my claim. Someone has to be accountable for those records.

    1. Eric, I’d say that your next step is to take your situation and the letter you have received saying the VA has your files, to your state congressman or representative.

  4. I have received the same reply, I was in servie back in 1994 and have been died my claim because the VA cannot find my medical and on top of that they say they started a new record for me which contains no information.

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