The FOIA Process: Part 2 – What Do I Need?

| February 3, 2014

OK, so you want to file a FOIA request.  The question arises – what do you need to do that?

Obviously, you need an envelope, some paper (or the appropriate blank form), a pen, and a stamp.  (smile)  You also need some information concerning the individual about whom you’re making the inquiry.

In order to file a successful FOIA request, you’ll need enough information about the individual in question to identify them from among of literally millions of sets of Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) and/or electronic equivalents on file in the archives.  My experience has been that one of the following two sets of info is generally enough:

(A) name (firstname/middle initial/lastname) plus SSN.  If the individual served before their branch adopted the SSN as an ID number – typically before the early 1970s – their old service/serial number (NOT the same as the SSN) should also work.


(B) complete name (firstname/middlename/lastname) plus date of birth


(C)  Approximate dates of service (even just something as broad as “early 1980s” or “Vietnam-era”) and branch of service (Army/Navy/USMC/USAF).  If you have the indivdual’s SSN or service/serial number, you might get away with not having this – but I’d include it if it’s available.

Place of birth may also now be required in some cases if not all cases where SSN or Service/Serial Number isn’t available.  Per a recent telephone conversation with one of the records technicians, the Federal records repository that has archive responsibility for veterans’ military records (more on them later) has tightened up their procedures and now requires this if SSN is not available.  If you have the place of birth, it won’t hurt and will definitely raise the chances of your getting a records “hit” – even if it turns out it’s not strictly necessary.

One word of warning:  I would not recommend using unethical or questionable means to obtain SSNs.  In fact, I’d strongly recommend that you do not use unethical or questionable means to obtain SSNs for FOIA requests.  Various jurisdictions have different laws concerning privacy, and you could well be buying yourself a whole lot of legal trouble – civil and/or criminal – if you do that.

A key point to remember is that the name you submit on your FOIA request must be the name under which the person served in the military.  If they served under a variant spelling of their family name (I know of two such cases personally), their records will have that variant spelling.  If they served under an alias – or if they’ve legally changed their name since serving – using their current legal name almost certainly won’t work.  (Yes, this means using a former servicewoman’s married name almost certainly won’t work if she was discharged before getting married.)

Bottom line:  no name match, no “hit”.  I understand the same is true for the SSN or Service/Serial Number – if it doesn’t match the name you submit, you’re probably not going to get a records “hit” either.

If you don’t have all of the items of info listed above, the more verifiable information you have the better chance you have of the veteran’s records being located.  However, be advised you may or may not get a records “hit” with less information than listed above.  And bad info likely guarantees a “miss”, so if you’re not fairly sure of a DOB or POB, best to either omit it or indicate it as being “possible” or “unconfirmed” vice known truth.  (This last point is one reason why I generally prefer using a letter vice the government’s preprinted form when filing a FOIA request.)

Once you’ve gotten the info you need, the next step is to prepare your FOIA request and send it to the appropriate agency or agencies.  The next article covers that.

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Thank you so much for the info. Looking forward for the remaining instructions.

Okay, back to my lurking position.


Again Hondo, thanks for this very helpful information. My family knows where all my records are if needed. But I have had several veterans even ask about this info procedure in acquiring more than just their DD-214. Medical records, 2-1s and so forth that they lost over the years to moves, divorces (apparently vindictive ex spouses can cause a lot of problems) and other reasons. Again, thank you. A permanent place to find it here will be helpful in future references after I have forgotten the details.

HS Sophomore

When you’re busting phonies, how is it that you guys get this stuff? Is it just that they post DOBs and POBs on their facebooks, or do people just give you guys the info with the tips? Also, how would you even go about getting a social security number in a non-unethical way?


Thanks, I’m looking forward to this as well. My grandfather served during WW2 for 8 years but didn’t say anything about it, other than “join the air guard and let them pay for college, don’t join the….” and so I listened well and joined the Army.

If not for your site and other stolen valor types, I wouldn’t have known about the FOIA as it applies to getting records. Thanks again.