We live in a world where trust is not easily granted. We’ve all heard stories about scam artists, phonies, and those that pretend to be something they are not.
Unfortunately, this is also very common in the world of the U.S. Military. There are sorry individuals that exaggerate what they did while in service, or lie altogether about being a soldier or veteran.
For this reason, it’s sometimes necessary to verify if someone actually served or is serving in the US military.
Reasons include employment verification, checking the background of a relative (like a grandfather) or boyfriend / girlfriend.
Unfortunately, there aren’t any public military database records that one can easily search online.
We’ve gotten a lot of questions about this. Questions like:
How do you do a military lookup by name? Is there a free military background check available online?
Fortunately, you have some options.
Below are 6 ways to verify someone’s military service.
Jump To A Military Verification Service
#1 – DFAS
The first method that you’ll come across when doing a search for something like “verify military service” is the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, otherwise known as DFAS.
DFAS is an agency of the Department of Defense that was originally established in 1991 with the sole purpose of managing the DOD’s finances.
Since then, it has morphed into providing numerous other services, including you guessed it…military service verification.
Using their Defense Manpower Data Center’s service, you can quickly and somewhat easily get proof of military service for both active duty and retired military personnel.
Related Article: 15 Best States For Military Retirees and Veterans
However, it does have some limitations, which we’ll get into below.
Here’s how to use their system:
Step 1: Visit the Service members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) website here.
When I originally wrote this article, registration wasn’t necessary for a single record request.
However, as of recent, they now require you to create an account to run any type of search.
It’s really easy to do, and takes less than a minute.
Simply click on the ‘Create an account’ button in the upper right hand corner, fill out the required fields, create your challenge questions, add your additional info., and you’ll be in business.
Once you’ve done all that, proceed to step 2 below.
Step 2: Submit for a Single or Multiple record request
Note that multiple record requests will require you to register for their service (which is free).
For the purposes of this article, we’ll just use the “Single Record Request”.
Step 3: Enter in all pertinent information in the required fields, then click “Submit”.
This is where the service is a bit lacking, in my opinion.
For starters, unless you know the social security number AND / OR the birth date of the person whose military status you’re trying to verify, the search won’t work.
Additionally, you will need to know the date(s) that the person was serving in an active duty role.
If you don’t have that info, you’re out of luck.
Lastly, if you actually have this information and get the report, it’s lacking in detail.
Here’s a snapshot of what the report looks like:
As you can see, all it shows is the Active duty start and end dates for the individual, and the military branch they served in.
For some, this may be enough.
For others, they may need more detailed information like what the person actually did in the military, what schools they attended, awards, etc.
If this is you, then you need to do what’s known as a “Freedom of Information Act Request”, or FOIA.
#2 – Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) Request
One of the most accurate ways to check proof of military service is via a FOIA request.
Public military records are available to citizens just like other pieces of government documentation.
Our founding fathers established public records to offer full transparency between U.S. citizens and the U.S. government, which is why matters of public health and safety are made readily available.
Most public records request require no personal information or explanation on your part.
If you’re an American citizen that would like to search a military public records database, you have that right.
Public records availability is still supported through pieces of legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act. Since 1967, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has provided the public with the opportunity to request access to records for any federal agency, including the U.S. Military.
9 Exemptions And 3 Exclusions
Federal agencies are required by law to disclose any information that is requested by U.S. citizens (or non U.S. citizens) under the FOIA, unless it falls under one of nine exemptions.
These exemptions are in place to protect things like personal privacy, law enforcement, and national security.
Certain pieces of information related to the military may not be made available because it is a matter of national security. The exclusion protects the existence of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence, or international terrorism records that are classified.
However, if you are simply looking to verify the identity of someone that claims they served in the U.S. Military, this information is made readily available to the public.
How To Make A FOIA Request
Below is a simple step-by-step process for obtaining a valid FOIA request:
Step 1: Fill Out A FOIA Request Letter
There is no official government form that you need to fill out to make a FOIA request.
You can literally just write or type it out on a sheet of paper, however, it should contain some pertinent info.
We here at OMK have made a couple sample FOIA request letters for your convenience, see them below:
Click Here if you’re a member of the news media looking to verify someones military records.
Click Here if you’re an individual that is simply seeking information regarding someones military status or past.
Click Here if you’re affiliated with a private corporation and are seeking to verify someones military service for employment purposes.
Click Here if you’re affiliated with a college, university, or educational institution.
Step 2: Snail Mail / Email Your Request To The Appropriate Agency
After filling out and printing your FOIA request, you will then simply send it to the appropriate agency.
Each branch of the military has their own FOIA department, whereby you can either send it via Snail mail (IE a handwritten or typed letter), or via email.
I’ve presented both options below for each branch of the military:
Air Force FOIA Request Details
JoAnne Collins – FOIA Contact
Department of the Air Force
1000 Air Force Pentagon
Washington, DC 20330-1000
Telephone – (703) 693-2735
If you would like to email your request, send to the following email address: email@example.com
Alternatively, you can submit your FOIA request via this link.
They will have public service records of every US Air Force personnel listed in their database, including their discharge status, service number, date of enlistment, and more.
Army FOIA Request Details
Alecia Bolling – FOIA Contact
Department of the Army
Freedom of Information Act Office Suite 144
7701 Telegraph Road, Room 150
Alexandria, VA 22315-3905
Telephone – 703-428-7128
Email your request to the following: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively, you can submit your FOIA request via this link.
They will be able to accurately tell you if someone ever served in the US Army, or is currently serving.
They can quickly search Army discharge records for anyone that has ever served, going all the way back 62 years.
Additionally, they can also verify if that particular person received an honorable or dishonorable discharge.
Navy FOIA Request Details
Robin Patterson – FOIA Contact
2000 Navy Pentagon
Washington, DC 20350-2000
Telephone – 202-685-0412
Email your request to the following address: DONFOIA-PA@navy.mil
Alternatively, you can submit your FOIA request via this link.
Just like with the other military branches, you can easily find out if someone served in the US Navy via their database.
They’ll provide you with pertinent info such as the personnel’s service number, discharge status, enlistment info, and much more.
Marine Corps FOIA Request Details
Sally A. Hughes – FOIA Contact
Headquaters US Marine Corps (ARSF), FOIA/PA Section (ARSF)
3000 Marine Corps Pentagon
Washington, DC 20350-3000
Telephone – (703) 614-4008
Email your request to the following address: email@example.com
Alternatively, you can submit your FOIA request via this link.
They have the ability to lookup US Marines service records by name, and provide you their personnel service records and discharge status.
Coast Guard FOIA Request Details
Attn FOIA Officer
US Coast Guard Stop 7710
2703 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE
Washington, D.C. 20593-7710
Telephone – (202) 475-3522
Email your request to the following address: EFOIA@uscg.mil
Step 3: Wait
Each federal agency handles its own public records differently. Thus, the response time may vary. The U.S. Military is a busy branch of the federal government, so a response is rarely immediate.
Your response will receive the quickest possible response if directed to the appropriate agency or FOIA office. There is no central office in the government that handles FOIA requests for all federal agencies and departments.
It is important to note that the FOIA does not require agencies to create new records for a request, conduct extra research regarding the inquiry, analyze data, or answer specific questions you have. Their only obligation is to provide the public records already available to them, and you.
What Happens After I Make My Request?
After submitting a request, the FOIA will traditionally send you a letter acknowledging they received the request. They may also provide a tracking number for the public records military request.
Related Article: How to Check If Someone is Navy SEAL
The U.S. Military generally processes your request, searches for public records, then determines what (if any) information they are able to disclose. A simple name verification is usually no trouble at all.
However, it does take some time to do a military lookup by name which makes FOIA requests not the fastest means for proof of military service online.
There is no initial fee required to submit an FOIA request. However, charges may apply in particular circumstances. In general, an FOIA request will cost nothing if the search takes less than two hours, and less than 100 pages need to get duplicated. You may include in your request letter how much you are willing to pay in fees, if anything.
The U.S. Military processes requests in the order they were received. A simple request, that is one of only a few pages of requested documents, usually takes a shorter amount of response time compared to detailed requests.
All in all, you’re looking at about 4 – 8 weeks to receive a response to your FOIA request.
For more information regarding the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), please visit this frequently asked questions page.
#3 – Search The National Personnel Records Center
The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) is located in St. Louis, Missouri. For those that are not able to attend NPRC in-person, the national archives are also available to request online.
The repository contains millions of military personnel, health, and medical records of discharged as well as deceased veterans of all services during the 20th century.
According to the website, records that were prior to WWI are located in Washington, D.C.
NPRC also hosts medical treatment records related to retirees from all services, and records for dependent and other persons treated at naval medical facilities. The site is provided to anyone that would like more information regarding military personnel, medical, or health records.
The information is made available upon written request to the National Personnel Records Center.
How To Request Military Records From The NPRC
- Step 1: Visit the National Personnel Records Center official website.
- Step 2: Download and print a copy of the SF-180.
- Step 3: Fill out the form SF-180.
- Step 4: Mail the form SF-180 to the National Personnel Records Center. (Address below, scroll down a bit)
- Step 5: Wait for a response from the NPRC regarding the status of the request. After 10 days file an Online Status Update Request form.
An alternative to filling out and mailing a form SF-180 is to simply write a letter of request to the NPRC.
The letter does not need to be long, just simply outline as many specifics about the request you are seeking.
Try to include as much of the following info as possible:
- Veterans complete name while he / she served
- Social Security Number
- Branch of the military he / she claimed to serve in
- Relative dates of service
- Date of birth of the person whose information you’re requesting
- Place of birth of the person whose information you’re requesting
Then, you need to sign and date the letter.
The mailing address for written request letters or form SF-180 is:
National Personnel Records Center
1 Archives Drive
St. Louis, Missouri
The NPRC asks individuals that make a request to the archives wait at least 10 days before following up with the center. It takes time for the NPRC to receive and process your request given their workload.
You may check the status of your request by using the Online Status Update Request form. You may also contact the NPRC directly through a toll free phone number: 1-866-272-6272.
The National Personnel Records Center is open Monday through Friday, 8 am to 4 pm, CST. The national archives are closed on weekends and Federal holidays.
In order to contact the NPRC for more information, please call 314-801-0800. The FAX number to the center is 314-801-9195.
It reports that peak calling time occur between 10 am and 3 pm CST, Monday-Friday. Staff is available for phone inquires M-F from 7 am to 5 pm, CST.
#4 – Ask to see his or her DD-214 or military ID card
Another way to find out if someone is a veteran or not is to ask him or her for a copy of their DD-214.
The DD Form 214, or DD-214, is a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty. It is provided to every service member of the U.S. Military upon discharge.
The document is provided by the United States Department of Defense and is presented to the service member when he or she retirees, gets separated, or discharged from active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces.
It includes every branch of the U.S. Military including the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy.
A DD-214 is available in two different versions for review. The “short” version, or redacted copy, provides basic information like the nature and type of discharge, as well as a re-enlistment code.
The Member Copy 4, or “long” version of a DD-214 contains far more information that details the type of service as well as reason for separation. The U.S. Military only provides one copy of this form, and offers no replacement copies.
For authentication purposes, a legitimate DD-214 can prove that someone did in fact serve in the U.S. Military. However, you need to ask the individual directly for this documentation.
Furthermore, it is not always crystal clear to the untrained eye to notice the difference between a legitimate DD-214 and one that has been falsely created.
For this reason checking a DD-214 is usually not your best option for doing a free military background check.
Here are some common errors of DD-214 copies that are fake, or doctored up:
- Grammatical Errors: There are spelling or typo errors. Official government records should never contain these errors.
- Discrepancies: There are discrepancies between type of service and schooling or training received. For example, a U.S. Army Ranger should have attended Ranger School.
- Service Dates: Double check service dates on the form with the person’s memory. A legitimate service member should have no problem reciting the dates of his or her time in service quickly and accurately. Any delays in verifying the information on a DD-214 by spoken word is a major red flag.
- Verify the reason for discharge: Once again the Armed Forces member should have no problem providing a clear and accurate reason compared to the DD-214.
- Official Verification: Request that the person also verify the DD-214 by getting an official record from the National Archives in St. Louis. It takes some time, but is the best way to verify that the DD-214 is in fact legitimate.
If you have questions or concerned about the DD-214, you may also request to see the military ID card or Veteran ID card of the individual.
#5 – Search For Claimed Commendation Medals
There are better ways to verify the authenticity of someone that claims they served in the U.S. Armed Forces, however, if you want a quick and easy way to conduct a free military background check it is worth a shot.
For those service members that claim they received commendation medals such as a Purple Heart or Silver Star, there are available databases online that can verify this information.
Medal of Honor
The official database of Medal of Honor recipients is available at: http://www.cmohs.org/recipient-archive.php
You may search the full archive or narrow down a search based on categories like recently added, living recipients, recently departed, or double recipients.
Get a full list of Purple Heart recipients by visiting the official database: https://www.thepurpleheart.com/
You can search for a recipient by name, as well as find out info like:
- The conflict the person was involved in
- What branch of service they served in
- Hometown city and state
It is important to note the website notes that the list of recipients is not entirely complete, so information regarding the military honor is not 100% verifiable.
Other Military Awards
Still striking out with your proof of military service online? You should visit this database for one last military lookup by name:
The detailed search form has custom fields for first name, last name, conflict, award type, military branch, and rank.
#6 – Use An Online Military Background Check Service
The good news about online military background check services is that they provide very detailed, quick, and accurate information. The biggest flaw is that they cost money to use the service.
So you need to decide if finding proof of military service online is that important to you or not.
Online military background checks can get you near instant results which is great in certain situations, such as a blind date where someone needs to find out quickly if the person they are seeing is being genuine or already lying to their face.
TruthFinder.com is one of the most well known background checks on the web. The website advertises that they do a people search that includes a dark web scan. It also checks for public records.
Though you are very likely to find the military background you are seeking through TruthFinder.com, you will need to pay a fee for its services. In order to begin a search, create a new account and sign up for a subscription.
Another highly reputable online background service to consider, BeenVerified.com also charges a fee for its services.
There are a number of different ways to do a military lookup by name, or even address or phone number. Been Verified advertises that people have used their services for over 7 million downloads.
PeopleFinder.com is another online people search that can get you access to military records that are available for public use.
Like the other services it produces results in a matter of minutes, making it extremely convenient. You will have to pay, but for those that need quick and accurate results – it is very reliable.
Frequently Asked Questions – Proof of Military Service Online
Here are your answers to some other questions frequently asked about free military background check and military lookup by name services:
Is there an online database of military members I can search?
Unfortunately, there is no specific database that exists on the web as a people search only for members of the military. It is actually a great idea for verification purposes, but as of now no such thing exists.
I’m a veteran. How can I prove my military service to a potential employer?
There are many different ways that you can prove your military service to potential employers as well as to receive government benefits. The best way is to provide a DD-214 to the employer.
You may request additional documentation by contacting the National Archives. In certain cases, a military ID may be sufficient enough for an employer. In general though, a DD-214 is the most suitable.
Are there any free military background check services?
No, unfortunately there are no free military background check services. The best online background checks cost a fee and could help recover military records, if any show up in public record searches. However, there is no free service dedicated 100 percent to military checks.
Are military service records public?
Short answer, yes AND no. It all depends on when the service member served. For example, you can access the military records of anyone who served 62 years or more ago. However, you cannot access the military records of anyone prior to that.
How can I verify military service?
You have several options, including using the DFAS website, making a FOIA request, or searching the NPRC files. All of these options are discussed in thorough detail above.
Is faking military service a crime?
The Stolen Valor Act of 2013, which has been hotly contested in the top US courts, makes it a federal crime to claim certain military awards, commendations, or medals, in return for personal or financial gain.
What is a DD214?
A DD214 is an official document that is issued to a service-member upon completion of their service. It lists things like the date they entered service, what their ultimate rank was, schools they attended, and awards received.
Where are military records kept?
All military records are kept at the National Personnel Records Center (or NPRC), which is located in St. Louis, Missouri.
There are many ways to check to see if someone was in the military. Some may takes days or weeks to get verified. Others, like online background checks, may produce results in minutes yet cost a fee.
Regardless, it is important for employers to confirm military service, or for someone like a significant other that wants to make sure someone is not lying to them.
Perhaps in the future the US government will provide a free publicly searchable database of everyone who has served or is currently serving in the US military online.
It would certainly make verifying prior military service way quicker, as well as save the government time and money processing FOIA requests.
Until that point, we’ll have to rely on the military records provided by the methods listed above.
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