For research purposes, we recommend that you request the Official Military Personnel File or OMPF. This is the service member’s administrative record, containing information about their service history.
The Official Military Personnel File contains the following information on the veteran’s time in service::
Note that the OMPF does not contain any detailed information about the veteran’s participation in combat actions.
US military records are held by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), specifically the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri. This is the place to start when looking into veterans’ service records.
A veteran or their next of kin can request their records from the NPRC free of charge. “Next of kin” for the Archives’ purposes refers to the service member’s parents, children, siblings, or a surviving spouse who has not remarried.
There are several ways to request military records, but the easiest is online via the eVetRecs system.
Alternatively, you can mail or fax a Standard Form 180 to the NPRC. You can also write a letter yourself, but the SF-180 will lay out all the information the NPRC needs to find the records you’re looking for.
Note the request number on the signature page (if online) or the email or mail response (if you mailed or faxed) – you’ll need it to track your request.
Once the NPRC gets your signature page or completed SF-180, it’ll take a few days to process your request. Once the records are pulled and copies are made, the center will mail you the records you requested.
Military personnel records are made available to the public 62 years after the service member’s discharge date – anyone, even those who aren’t next of kin – can request these.
If the record is from within the last 62 years, you’ll need written authorization from the veteran or, in the event that the veteran is already deceased, their next of kin to access it. Without such authorization, you can only access a limited amount of information via the Freedom of Information Act.
After 62 years have passed, the records become open to the public and are fully accessible. There is a fee for this service, however. If the documents are five pages or less, it’s a flat $25 fee. If it’s six pages or more, it’s a flat $70 fee. Most records run six or more pages.
If you’re researching what NARA calls a Person of Exceptional Prominence (PEP), then costs and access are easier – a PEP’s OMPF costs only $0.80 per page. Keep in mind that these records are only available to the general public ten years after the PEP’s date of death.
You can view military records in person. Unlike requesting via online, mail, or fax, there is no fee to view archival records in the Archival Research Room. You can also make copies for a very small fee of $0.25 per page for paper records or $0.40 per page for microfilm records.
However, you’ll need to provide advance notice so that the NPRC can pull the records you want to view. You can book an appointment via email or telephone. You’ll need to bring a valid government ID to get inside.
Records from 1917 to the present – that is, World War I and later – are held at the National Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.
If you’re requesting personnel records from before 1917, the files are held at the Textual Archives Services Division in Washington, DC. These can be ordered online, or you can download and fill in an NATF-86 form.
Unfortunately, the military records at the NPRC are not comprehensive. The National Personnel Records Center suffered a fire on July 12, 1973, which destroyed the center’s entire sixth floor and 16 to 18 million Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF).
The Air Force lost the files for personnel discharged from September 25, 1947 to January 1, 1964. The Army was even harder hit, losing records for personnel discharged from November 1, 1912 to January 1, 1960. If the veteran you are researching served in either of these services during the specified period, their records may have been lost during the fire.
Response time varies based on what sort of records you’re requesting, the availability of these records, and the NPRC’s workload. The center will do its best to get to you in time, but it also receives 4,000 to 5,000 requests a day.
A veteran requesting a DD-214 generally gets it within six to ten days. A full OMPF is a longer document and may take more time. Generally speaking, you should have your requested documents in ten days.
If more than ten days have passed since your request without any updates, you can check its status online. Input the request number into the online tracker to get updates on the progress.