Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's)
What types of records may I ask for?
You may request records in the VA’s possession and control in any format including electronic format. The Department of Justice notes that for FOIA purposes, “records” includes all tangible documentations of information regardless of whether they are records under 44 U.S.C. § 3301. Physical objects such as human specimens (e.g., blood samples), equipment (e.g., computers and furniture), and office supplies; or personal notes of VA employees or contractor employees are not records.
Can you help me find a relative or friend who is a Veteran?
The VA follows the requirements of the Privacy Act, which protects personal information that VA maintains in its “system of records.” A system of records is a file, database, or program from which personal information is retrieved by name or another personal identifier. 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 Veterans, provided the Veterans has filed a claim with VA, and if we have a current address in our files.
To forward a message, you must write our message and place it in an unsealed, stamped envelope. Please include a note to VA explaining who you are trying to reach and add as much identifying information as you can about the Veteran. Place all of this in another envelope addressed to the nearest VA Regional Office.
If the Veteran is in our records, your unsealed envelope will be sealed and the envelope will be sent to the Veteran’s address that we have on file. If the Veteran receives our note, it is then up to the Veteran to contact you. This process is designed to protect the privacy of our Veterans.
How long will it take for me to get a response to my request?
Under the law, all federal agencies are required to respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days, unless there are “unusual circumstances.” The time period generally begins when the request is received by the FOIA office within the VA that maintains the records sought.
If a request is misdirected within the VA, the receiving VA component has 10 business days to forward the request to proper VA component.
Under the FOIA, the 20-day response time may be extended when “unusual circumstances” exist. Unusual circumstances exist in one of the following situations:
- The component needs to search for and collect responsive records from a field office or other entity separate from the office processing the request;
- The result involves a “voluminous” amount of records that must be located, compiled, and reviewed; or,
- The component needs to consult with another federal agency other components within VA that have a substantial interest in the responsive information.