Over the last five years I have been asked by many Vets about how to obtain records that have gone missing. Some of you are unable to pursue a claim because it appears there is no record of you existing at the NPRS. Nothing. No medical, military or even a suggestion that you served. For many, that is the unfortunate end of the road. Or is it?
The military has an interesting way of filing records. If you were an outpatient, a file was kept up front to be pulled when you arrived for Sick Call in the morning. Since you never got sick at night, this really worked well. In the off chance you injured yourself after 1730 but before 0700, and you were stationed in a civilized (read stateside or Europe) area, you were invariable admitted overnight and departed the next morning if it was no more than an acute event that resolved itself via hangover or sutures.
On the other hand, if you were really sick and were admitted to the Institute of Medical Learning, your records ended up in a completely different file. This, of course, is the in-patient file and was completely divorced from the outpatient one. To add to this confusion, at the end of your service, infrequently your in, as well as outpatient, files were never transferred to that Warehouse with no sprinkler system in St. Louis.
Let’s look at how you can find some of these items. Medical records have a wealth of information that is more revealing in light of newer medical discoveries. Thus, admittance for flu-like symptoms for a week following a jetgun cattle drive is evidence (plausible) of an acute reaction to the HCV virus. If it included blood labs showing a noticeable spike in your SGOT, you have some useful evidence a doctor would use to opine that you contracted the dragon at that time.
Usually the NPRC has these inpatient files. They’re not associated with your outpatient stuff that gets shipped back to your VARO. They are filed by hospital. In addition, each hospital folder is arranged chronologically. This may mean a trip to the hypnotist to regress you back to the event in order to determine the approximate date. Once you ascertain that, you may delve deeper and request it based on those narrower parameters.
Not wishing to denigrate the good names of the personnel who work there, I merely mention in passing that they are measured as most government workers are, for productivity versus baksheesh paid. The reason for this is twofold. Having statisticians creates more jobs and lowers unemployment. More paper is needed so more loggers are employed, too. Again-more jobs. It’s a win-win deal. The workers at the NPRC are thus motivated to supply 7 or 8 request a day for DD214s but leave the real search work undone. If you keep on sending in FOIAs, you will notice they begin to find more and more. If you get site-specific and tell them when and where they might find it, the odds increase dramatically that your seach(es) will bear fruit.
If, indeed, the NPRC has none of this inpatient info, then the search needs to move to the last duty station. This is usually the winning ticket if there is going to be one. Remember also, that this is predicated on the dual filing system discussed above. Failing that, and excluding the Korean and early Vietnam war era Vets whose files were burned up or destroyed in the 1973 fire, the search may go cold.
I find this is of little consolation to those who are left out. It’s a lotto under the best of circumstances and many lose who shouldn’t. Many more lose due to the inefficiency of having several different files. We don’t have a repair order for this other than what I report here.
Last but not least, always remember that you get only what you ask for. I had to go back and query them for my military records in 2009. Oddly, in 1989, VA was sent my entire medical outpatient SMRs and NPRC kept no copies of them. Fortunately I rescued them from my C files before they inadvertently migrated to the shredder room.