How to Find and Request Military Records Online
If you are searching for the military records of a loved one, or need your own military records, there are several tools available to help you locate and request these documents. One of the best places to start is the National Archives, the government organization tasked with saving the most important documents, records, and photos from the U.S. government (this still represents only 1-3% of all the documents processed). Among these are the historical military personnel records of more than 100 million veterans, ranging back as far as pre-WWI.
Military personnel records can include DD 214s/Separation Documents, service personnel records found within the Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), and medical records. These documents can be used for proving military service or as a valuable tool in genealogical research. These records become “archival” – or available to the general public – 62 years after the servicemember’s separation date. Records younger than that are only available to the veteran or his or her next-of-kin (un-remarried widow or widower, son, daughter, father, mother, brother or sister).
The majority of these requests are paper-based and not available online, but the National Archives’ National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) has created several vehicles for helping veterans and family members request copies of their record. Requestors can use the online eVetRecs tool, submit an SF-180 Form by fax (314-801-9195) or mail, or even write a request letter to the NPRC (National Personnel Records Center, 1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138).
All requests must be signed (in cursive) and dated by the veteran (within one year). You can request more than one document, but the NPRC asks that you submit separate letters or requests for each individual. If you are the next-of-kin of a deceased veteran, you must provide proof of death such as a copy of death certificate, letter from funeral home, or published obituary.
To aid in the search, your request must contain certain basic information regarding the veteran, including:
- The veteran's complete name used while in service
- Service number
- Social security number
- Branch of service
- Dates of service
- Date and place of birth
On July 12, 1973, a disastrous fire at the NPRC destroyed approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF), including 80% of Army records for personnel discharged Nov. 1, 1912 - Jan. 1 1960, and 75% of Air Force personnel discharged Sept. 25, 1947- Jan. 1, 1964. These documents can be reconstructed with extra time and information. If you suspect your records may have been involved in the 1973 fire, also include:
- Place of discharge
- Last unit of assignment
- Place of entry into the service, if known.
Response time for records varies and is dependent upon the complexity of the request, the availability of records, and the center’s workload (the NPRC receives approximately 4,000 - 5,000 requests per day). The majority of requests for separation documents are responded to within 10 days.
Documents that were lost in the 1973 fire and require reconstruction, or very old records that require extensive research, may take 6 months or more to complete. The center does offer an expedited process for burial needs or emergencies, so be sure to note that in the comments section of your eVetRec request, or contact the NPRC customer service line at You may also telephone the NPRC Customer Service Line between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. CST at: 314-801-0800.
Please note that DD Form 214 copies are a free service of the NPRC and any company advertising this service with a cost should not be trusted.
While most of the archive’s holdings are not available online, their website does include a large collection of searchable databases that might be of interest to veterans, their family members, and researchers. These include photos, casualty records, enlistment and draft records, and other related documents for a number of conflicts.
Written By Megan Hammons