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Why Every Veteran Should Know What’s in Their Military Service Records

Sean Bigley | Clearance Jobs

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a security clearance holder say, “I had no clue that was in my file,” I’d be a rich man.  The context varies – human resources files, security databases, law enforcement records, etc. – but the surprise is rarely a good one.  Common examples include an old disciplinary write-up, a long-forgotten security infraction, or a police report with highly unflattering details about the subject.

Armed Forces veterans are not immune to this phenomenon. Like an elephant, the military rarely forgets. But just as the military’s institutional memory is long, so is its capacity for human error. Over the years we’ve seen plenty of inaccurate or incomplete entries to service records, and even an occasional case of mistaken identity. Problems occur frequently enough that each service branch has a special entity – a Board for Correction of Military Records – charged with remediating records errors (and injustices).

If military service records were relegated to some dusty Pentagon storage room for eternity, that would be one thing. But they aren’t. They are reviewed as a standard component of security clearance background investigations, so it behooves every veteran seeking subsequent employment as a cleared contractor to know precisely what investigators will be seeing.

Fortunately, the process for requesting one’s Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) is quite easy. Veterans can find detailed instructions and contact information for the National Personnel Records Center on the National Archives website.

Alternatively, those seeking the convenience of a pre-drafted (“fill-in-the-blanks”) request letter can obtain one from my practice here.

The real work, however, may come after receipt of the records.  If there are no unexpected surprises, that’s great; at least you know now. But a veteran with a history of disciplinary actions, medical (psychiatric) issues, or an other-than-honorable discharge may find it worthwhile to consult with an attorney who practices before the relevant service’s Board for Correction of Military Records prior to pursuing job opportunities within the cleared contractor space. There may be nothing that can be done, but an initial inquiry is worth the time and relatively nominal cost.

My office does not handle military record corrections, but there are a number of good attorneys out there – most of them veterans themselves – who do. Alternatively, or in conjunction with legal assistance, veterans seeking help with the correction of military records may also consider contacting their congressional representative(s) and speaking with the constituent affairs staff member assigned to handle DoD and VA issues. These congressional staff members can be excellent resources, and many have deep institutional knowledge that can be valuable in helping navigate the federal bureaucracy.

This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

Active Duty