Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)
What types of records may I ask for?
Any record may be obtained through the FOIA, provided that the record is not exempt from release by one of the nine FOIA exemptions. In the case of Privacy Act records, you must provide the written permission of the individual whose records you seek. If the individual is deceased, you must provide a copy of the death certificate. In no case will the names and/or addresses of beneficiaries (including deceased beneficiaries) be released under the FOIA as this information is protected by another statute (exemption (b)(3)). Types of records include medical, benefit, personnel, burial, financial, audits, administrative investigations, legal opinions, and contracts. Please note that medical and beneficiary records are Privacy Act records and some of the information is exempt from release under the (b)(3) and (b)(6) FOIA exemptions. For information the records VA maintains, see VA Privacy Act Systems of Records.
Can you help me find a relative or friend who is a Veteran?
As a Federal agency that is required by law to enforce the Privacy Act, we are obliged to protect the privacy of Veterans' personal information. Therefore, VA cannot release personal information about a Veteran in our records system without that person's permission. We can, however, forward a message from you to the Veteran, providing the Veteran has filed a claim with VA, and if we have an address in our files. To forward a message, you must write your message and place it in an unsealed, stamped envelope. Please include a note to VA explaining who it is you are trying to reach and add as much identifying information as you can. Place all of this in another envelope addressed to the nearest U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office.
If the Veteran is in our records, your message to the Veteran will be sealed and the envelope sent to the Veteran's address we have on file. Please note that the Veteran may not have informed us of a change of address, so we cannot guarantee receipt of your message. If the Veteran receives your note, it is then up to the Veteran to contact you. This process is designed to protect the privacy of our Veterans as required by law.
How can I find records about my ancestor who was a Veteran?
Benefit records about ancestors would be located in the Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem (BIRLS). BIRLS is a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) database containing records of all beneficiaries, including veterans whose survivors applied for death benefits.
Where can I get my medical records from a VA facility?
Submit your request to the Director of the VA medical facility where the individual was last treated or to the FOIA/Privacy Act Officer at Veterans Health Administration, VA Central Office. Ready to request health records? Find your VHA FOIA contact.
How long will it take for me to get a response to my request?
It is the policy of the Veterans Affairs Central Office FOIA/Privacy Act Officer to acknowledge your request within 20 working days of receipt. This acknowledgment will advise you of the date of receipt and the responding office. The custodian of the records is required within 20 working days to advise the requester as to whether or not Veterans Affairs has any information responsive to their request. If feasible, the information is released at that time. Veterans Affairs works on a first-in, first-out basis, so there may be other requests ahead of yours. If the custodian of the records has a backlog, it will take longer to respond to your request. That office will advise you as to how long it will take to respond to your request. Remember the 20 working days response time begins when it is received by the custodian of the record.
What can I do to get a faster response?
When requesting information, be sure to clearly state what records you are specifically looking for and where they may be located. Also, be sure to clarify your willingness to pay fees in your initial request.
I need to get my response sooner, is that possible?
Under the FOIA, you are entitled to receiving expedited processing of your request in cases in which you demonstrate a compelling need. A compelling need must be demonstrated in one of the two following ways:
- By establishing that the failure to obtain the records quickly "could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual;" or,
- If you are primarily engaged in disseminating information, and you demonstrate that an "urgency to inform the public concerning actual or alleged Federal Government activity" exists.
For more information, please visit our page on how to Submit a FOIA request.
How much will my FOIA request cost?
There is no initial fee to submit a FOIA request and in many cases no fees are charged for processing. By law, an agency is entitled to charge certain fees, depending on the category into which you fall. You may include in your request a specific statement limiting the amount that you are willing to pay in fees. If you do not do so, we will notify you if we anticipate processing costs to exceed your fee category entitlements, as described above. If we estimate that the fees for processing your request will exceed $250, we will notify you of the estimate and offer you an opportunity to narrow your request in order to reduce the fees. For more information about fees and rates, please visit our fee information page.
May I get a waiver of fees?
Agencies may grant fee waivers if the requester successfully describes that the disclosure of information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to the public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester. For more information about fees and rates, please visit our fee information page.
May I appeal my FOIA request?
Under the FOIA's administrative appeal provision and the VA FOIA regulations, a requester has the right to appeal any adverse determination the VA makes on their FOIA request. For more information about FOIA Appeals, please visit our FOIA appeals page.