The FOIA Process: Part 1 – Intro

| February 2, 2014

We deal quite a bit with replies to FOIA inquiries concerning military records here at TAH.  They’re a tool that TAH uses to “out” military phonies and prove them to be damned liars.

But for many the FOIA process is somewhat of a mystery.  So I decided I’d write a short series of articles on the FOIA request process – a brief “how to”, if you like.

Why now and not earlier?  While Jonn was a National Archives employee, as he stated elsewhere he intentionally stayed out of the FOIA business.  He also intentionally remained ignorant of the FOIA process.  That way, no one could accuse him of using nonpublic information, “inside contacts”, or similar unethical conduct.  Posting a FOIA “How To” on the site would have simply been wrong under those conditions.  So prior to a few days ago I’d not written this article and the ones to follow.

That’s no longer the case.  I’ve now got the “green light” from Jonn to post these articles here at TAH.

I’m not saying that what I’m going to describe in these articles is the only or best way to do FOIA requests, or that I’m a expert in the area.  But what I’m going to describe seems to work fairly well for me.

Why?  Simple.  The more people who know how to do a FOIA request relating to military records, the greater chance we have of seeing those who make false claims concerning their military records get “busted”.

That’s a good thing.

What will follow is a series of six articles.  The first follows immediately; the remainder will follow over the next few days.

Intro:  FOIA?  What’s that?

FOIA stands for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  That law, passed in 1967, essentially states that with certain exceptions the public has the right to know information held by the Federal government.  Essentially, if information in the possession of the Federal government isn’t PII and isn’t covered by one of the FOIA’s exceptions or classified, at least in theory that information can be obtained by the public on request.

A substantial amount of information in a person’s military record is considered public record information releasable under the FOIA.  While a veteran’s complete military record can only be released with his or her consent (or, if the vet is deceased, with the consent of their next of kin), that’s not the case regarding the public record information in the file.

The items considered public record information in an individual’s military records may be released on request to literally anyone without the veteran’s consent.  That public record information generally sufficient to prove whether or not a claim concerning military service is true – or is a case of stolen valor.  This release is fully consistent with, and is not a violation of, the Privacy Act of 1974 in any way, shape, form, or fashion.

This page at the National Archives website lists the information from a veteran’s military records may be released to literally anyone on request.  I’ll repeat the items here, for ease of reference:

  • Name
  • Service/Serial Number (NOT the SSN – this was used prior to and during most of Vietnam)
  • Dates of Service
  • Branch of Service
  • Final Duty Status
  • Final Rank
  • Salary*
  • Assignments and Geographical Locations
  • Source of Commission*
  • Military Education Level
  • Promotion Sequence Number*
  • Awards and decorations (eligibility only, not actual medals)
  • Photograph
  • Transcript of Courts-Martial Trials
  • Place of entrance and separation

(Note:  the items marked with an asterisk above are not usually present in military records held on-file in government archives.) 

If the veteran is deceased, the following additional items of information may be released if available:

  • Place of birth
  • Date and geographical location of death
  • Place of burial

As you can see, that’s quite an extensive list of information that may be released to the general public.  That publicly-releasable information is generally sufficient to verify – to a degree of reasonable certainty – claims of receipt of decorations for valor, combat service, special operations qualification, and the like.

Frankly, about the only thing that might be misleading is a military retiree’s retired rank.  The rank released under the FOIA process is the final rank at time of discharge.  Barring a courts-martial or administrative reduction, this is usually the highest rank an individual attained during his/her military service.  But in a few cases (such as a prior-service officer who is reduced during a drawdown and reverts to enlisted status and retires while enlisted), an individual’s retired rank may be different – and higher – than their final rank.

Obtaining this info via the FOIA process is not what I’d call “quick and easy”, but it’s definitely doable and really isn’t terribly difficult.  The next few articles will detail the process of making a request for information releasable under the FOIA concerning a veteran’s military records.  They will cover

  • what information is needed to file a FOIA request,
  • how to prepare a FOIA request,
  • where to send a FOIA request,
  • what it may cost,
  • what you might get back as a reply,
  • the interpretation of results, and
  • some administrative information that doesn’t fit neatly elsewhere.

. . .

That’s all for today.  The next article will cover the information needed to file a FOIA request.

Category: The FOIA Process

Comments (21)

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  1. A Proud Infidel says:

    FIIIIRRST!! Now I predict we’ll soon be seeing wave after wave of posers like the Chinese came at us in the Korean War.

  2. thebesig says:

    It’s a simple process. I’ve sent a few FOIA requests, and they’ve had a decent turnaround time for responses.

  3. Twist says:

    SEEECONED!! I look forward to the next few write ups.

  4. Twist says:

    @2: Darn it you messed up my messing with API by hitting submit comment before I did.

  5. Ex-PH2 says:

    Well… I guess I’ll be outed. After all I did to cover my tracks, you will all find out that I am actually Mother Thing, the cop on the beat, appointed by the governing body of the Three Galaxies to keep an eye on the juvenile delinquent species known as humans, just in case they get a little out of hand and start forming gangs.

    Oh, wait – they’re already doing that. I am in such deep sh*t with my desk sergeant.

    Three Galaxies – One Law! Hooah!

    Can anyone find that map of the Milky Way that I lost? It was in the glove box in my starship…..

  6. Hondo says:

    thebesig: correct, but there are a few twists/turns that can bite you. Hopefully what I post over the next few days will help others avoid them.

    There are just so many idiots out there “rockin’ the lie”.

  7. Marine_7002 says:

    If this series is as good as I think it’s gonna be, all of us need to save it in one document to send to our local media as a “how-to” primer.

    Way excellent start, Hondo. Bravo Zulu!

    And Jonn, kudos to you for your integrity and all you have done (and continue to do) here at TAH.

  8. Ex-PH2 says:

    Hondo, are you SURE you want to do this?

    You have to remember Dougie Collette and DumBFraCkInGAsS Whipitnflogit may read it, too, and start tracking down the objects of their ire, all of whom need to be warned that they may be under sUrVeiLLancE by BLiTheRing IdIoTs.

    I mean, if DuLlaSs thinks Sparks is some poor soul named James Frank Sparks, the real Jim Sparks needs to be warned that an idiot is going to be pestering him.

  9. Hondo says:

    Marine_7002: TAH now has a category called “The FOIA Process” (the categories are below “Archives”). All the articles in this series will be listed there. So all you’ll have to do is give someone that URL and they’ll have access to all of them.

    I targeted these towards private individuals, so I left out a bit. For example: the records repository (NPRC) does accept faxed requests, and I understand journalists often do their FOIAs (if they bother) by fax.

    I may have to do a later follow-up article or two with information I didn’t put in these.

  10. NHSparky says:

    @8–let ’em. They’ll find nothing you and I haven’t already claimed.

    Funny how that truth thing works, isn’t it?

  11. Sparks says:

    On the subject of FOIAs I guess I am outed. I was a gunner, M134 rotary minigun, tail gunner on an A-10 Warthog. I served in the Vietnam War AFTER the official war ended in the mid 70s. The secret one the government doesn’t want you to know about. It was hell, no support, flying backwards in that A-10. I knocked down 5 or 6 Zeros myself, those are all confirmed. We were coming in low on a run, oh, had to be around ’78 or ’79 and an ME-109 was on us like white on rice. Couldn’t shake him. He hit us bad. The pilot was shot up pretty good. I took several hits myself but finally, a P-51 came in behind him. We were crying we were so relieved. The Mustang hit him and I saw smoke. I laid in on the M134 for good measure. I wanted to take scalps that day but it wasn’t my kill. We limped the Hog back to Pearl. 178 holes in her. 2 wounds in the pilot and I had 7 20MM rounds in my chest area. The piss pot I was sitting on saved my nads. Docs at Pearl said it was the worst 20MM wounds they had seen. I got my 9th and 10th PH for those. Both of us got an AFCOMM w/V of course. But they cheaped out on us with the Air Medals. Anyway, I am glad those days are behind me now.

    Man do these pain pills do the job! 😀

  12. Marine_7002 says:

    Hondo – thanks, that’s Sierra Hotel!

  13. Ex-PH2 says:

    Exactly, NHSparky, and the thing is, I’ve never claimed anything… other than being the occasional harpy bitch, I mean.

  14. Sparks says:

    @13 That made me laugh but I am sure you are NEVER a harpy b@tch. You are far too nice for that.

  15. NHSparky says:

    @14–unless some douchetool Photoshops his face over the picture of a good friend to push SV, and then it’s “Junior Rodeo” on.

  16. MCPO NYC USN Ret. says:

    Wait. Wait. Wait!

    Are you telling me Jonn (and his secret band of operatives) have not been making sh!t up on their own all this time and his (their) source documents have been legit FOIA documents?

    UNBELIEVABLE!

    THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!

  17. Sparks says:

    @15 NHSparky, I am with you on that. Big time rodeo comin’ then.

  18. Sparks says:

    @16 Master Chief I am sure every tool out there thinks Jonn, Hondo and the TAH research staff all pull this stuff out of their butts anyways. Think Magsam yesterday. Photoshop is a great and evil tool at the same time, re: Bernath. Problem is some of these tools don’t even try very hard i.e. look up uniform regs, Google images of real uniforms, etc. They make it just too easy to look at their getups and say “bullshit”. Example again, Magsam. Claims Marine Gunny but sports a CIB.

  19. HS Sophomore says:

    Thanks, Hondo. This is a big help. Let the hunting begin!

  20. jabatam says:

    Give an SV Hunter an FOIA and you make him/her happy for a day. Teach him/her how to request an FOIA and you make him/her happy for life

  21. streetsweeper says:

    So, there I was mowing the first sergeants lawn with this fancy, dancy new fangled pushmower he aquired from motorpool when the shit hit the fan. The CO’s dog had been over at the chowhall begging scraps offa the civie cooks cuz it didn’t eat nearly as well at home and left green crap on the lawn and yep, you guessed it! *BOOM*! Green dog shit everywhere!

    First Sergeant comes running out screaming at top of his lungs, “Boy! What the HE double hockey sticks just happen out hea?”. Faking a grevious leg injury, I laid on his lawn ’bout maybe ohhhh…a hundred or so feet away from that smelly assed bomb the CO’s poodle had left. “Ohhhh…my leg! My leg! That sumabitch got muh leg!. Needless to say, no purple heart, no hero medals, nothing man. Zip! Zero! Nada! But? That poodle neva shit on first sergeants lawn again!