What are Service Treatment Records or STRs? These military records should not be confused with military Service Records or SR. What’s the difference and why does it matter?
Service Records Versus Service Treatment Records
Service records are the paper trail and other documentation “created during a service member’s period(s) of military service,” according to VA Publication M21-1, Part III, Subpart iii, Chapter 2. Service Treatment Records are a component of Service Records. There are three basic categories:
- Service Treatment Records (STRs)
- Military personnel records
- Clinical records
Each of these records can play an important part in determining military pay and benefits as well as determining any post-service benefits the soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, or Guardian may be entitled to or be considered for.
What Is In Service Treatment Records?
STRs are, simply put, the military health records for those who serve. VA.gov literature says these can “typically include” the service member’s medical history all the way from MEPS with entrance exams and other medical review all the way to end-of-career discharge physical examinations. They may also include:
- Clinical record summaries
- Entries from outpatient medical treatment
- Entries for outpatient dental treatments
- Physical profiles
- Military medical board proceedings
- Prescriptions for eyeglasses
- Prescriptions for orthopedic footwear
The entire military medical history including dental exams and dental records are included as STRs. It’s obvious that such a history is crucial in making a claim for VA benefits for service-connected medical issues or disabilities.
There are some things that are NOT included in STRs:
- Inpatient treatment clinical records
- Finance records
- Mental health records
- Military Personnel Record Jacket (MPRJ) “which may contain physical profiles and medical board proceedings,” according to VA.gov.
Military members sometimes don’t understand the full importance of these records but they are too important to treat casually.
How important? The Department of Veterans Affairs actually publishes guidelines for proper care and handling of service records in general. They include the following instructions to VA staff:
“When handling original, paper versions of these records, VA employees must make all reasonable efforts to protect their integrity, appearance, and readability.”
VA rules state that these records cannot be marked up, date stamped, or hole punched. There are even specific rules for what to do if the service records exceed a thickness of one inch in the file.
That could be taken as a general indicator of how important these records are. Why harp on this issue? Because lost and misplaced service records can make it harder to claim VA benefits (just one example) after retiring or separating from military service.
It’s Important To Safeguard Your STRs
Service records in general can be tricky to replace–it is, depending on circumstances, time consuming and requires waiting times that can be more than inconvenient if you are trying to beat a deadline such as for using GI Bill benefits.
Lost or misplaced records can be replaced but don’t be in a hurry to get the records–submit your request for these records as early as possible.
However, in cases of recent military service, you may be able to generate copies of STRS automatically, according to VA rules which state:
“Establishing a claim in the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS)/Share will automatically trigger a request to scan and upload STRs for a Veteran, if the STRs were previously stored at RMC. The status of this request can be found in the RMC SMTS Portal.”
VA literature also advises that STRs, “including entrance and discharge physical examinations” are submitted to the VA Regional Office with jurisdiction in the area where the veteran files a claim “at the time of separation on VA Form 21-526, Veteran’s Application for Compensation and/or Pension.”
But for older service records in general, this may not be an option, as we’ll explore below.
Replacing Older STRs
Getting replacement records can be complicated–not all Service Treatment Records are stored in the same places. Much depends on when you joined the military.
For example, the records of those who served with military service ending between 1992 and 1998 (depending on branch of service and other variables) may be housed at the National Personnel Record Center (NRPC) in the National Archives.
You may be able to request replacement STRs (depending on a variety of factors including whether you are the veteran or next-of-kin) from the NRPC.
Service Treatment Record replacement procedures will vary depending on who is making the request–the next-of-kin or the veteran. Veterans have a much easier time getting these records but in general next-of-kin should be prepared to supply documentation including:
- Relationship to the veteran
- Dates of military service
- Social Security Number
- Service Number (where applicable)
- Branch of Service
- Nature of Discharge
You can learn where your military records are stored at the National Archives official site at https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/locations.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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