VA Records Request Fees Demystified
Lately, a ton of veterans have been writing in with problems requesting VA records from the Department of Veterans Affairs with a FOIA or Privacy Act request. VA has been trying to charge for things that are prohibited in its regulations.
What to know if you are getting ripped off?
This post gives you three facts (regulations) if you find yourself confused about how to get your records without getting socked in your wallet.
RELATED: Disabled Veterans Sample FOIA Letter
Here are three questions we will answer with regs below:
- Can VA charge for the first copy of benefits records?
- Can VA charge for other records requests that pertain to you?
- Can VA charge me when I request copies of records about the agency?
Rest assured, if you are confused about how VA charges for records requests, you are in good company. I get the feeling VA employees themselves are a bit confused.
At the core of this huge problem is a VA that seems unable to train its Privacy Officers in a way that ensures they provide us with every record we seek about ourselves.
Below is some input if you run into problems and regulations to cite in your own request plus a link to an illustrative FOIA letter example.
Generally, VA is required to provide records with information pertaining to you that it maintains in any system of records. Do not be fooled if the Privacy Officer tries to limit your search to only benefits systems of records and not electronic mail records systems.
“Except as otherwise provided by law or regulation any individual upon request may gain access to his or her record or to any information pertaining to him or her which is contained in any system of records maintained by the Department of Veterans Affairs.” 38 CFR § 1.577(a).
Here are three tips to keep in mind regarding fees when you seek your records that demystify how VA assesses fees.
COPIES OF C-FILE OR VA MEDICAL FILE – FIRST COPY FREE
- VA will waive all costs when you request a copy of a benefits claims records for the first time. This means you will not be charged a fee when you request a copy of your medical records or your disability compensation records. The same holds for when you request copies of your Vocational Rehabilitation records. “When VA benefit records, which are retrievable by name or individual identifier of a VA beneficiary or applicant for VA benefits, are requested by the individual to whom the record pertains, the duplication fee for one complete set of such records will be waived.” 38 CFR § 1.577(g)
COPIES OF OTHER RECORDS ABOUT YOU – CHEAP BUT NOT FREE
- VA shall waive costs for the search and review process to find the records you are seeking that could include emails. VA privacy officers have been known to soak some unsuspecting veterans for the search and review. You might get charged for the cost of duplication of the records, “Fees to be charged, if any, to any individual for making copies of his or her record shall not include the cost of any search for and review of the record…” 38 CFR § 1.577(f)
COPIES OF RECORDS ABOUT THE AGENCY – FREE FOR REPORTERS
- Anyone can request general records the agency has that are not otherwise protected under one of FOIA’s exclusions. FOIA requests tend to be free for reporters if the information will be edited and synthesized for public dissemination and if the dissemination will benefit society. If you inadvertently make a FOIA request for your own records and forget to mention Privacy Act in the request, VA regulations require the agency to process the claim under both. 38 CFR 1.550(a) This means VA is required to waive the fee for search and review, but they might try to charge you anyway if they are unfamiliar with the regulation.
I will follow up later with VA directives that discuss how VA is supposed to process records including electronic mail records (emails). Currently, VA Privacy Officers across the country claim they can only provide an email if it is in a benefits system of records. This is hogwash since emails exist in a system of records called an electronic mail records system.
Have you had a tough time getting records VA has about you?
What form or forms do you use to request your records from the VBA and the VA Healthcare System. It seems to me that admin records are kept a VBA like and I am not sure “C-File” and healthcare has to be done separately. I am in the process.
I put in request on form I was told were good and the VA sent me a denial letter telling me that their VA form is not good and they want me to provide a copy of a govt issued ID such as DL or Passport. I called them and asked for guidance and the Privacy Officer was rude and condescending to me. She acts like she is too important to be bothered providing the correct form. I asked her about using my new VA ID card and she told me it is not accepted because it does not meet Govt ID policy. She hung up on me when I said an ID issued by the VA is not Govt issued.
Can you tell me what is the best way or provide me links if you answered this? I don’t see why they want to make it impossible to get your own records when they send you privacy notice in the mail that says they can basically give out your private medical records to anybody else they feel like except the veteran. HIPPA is such a joke when Govt agencies don’t follow the law they expect the people to follow.
Rob, I put a link at the top of the article to the basic FOIA / PA template I have used with a degree of success.
I submitted a FOIA to my local VA for a form they claimed I signed showing I was notified they would bill my insurance for non-service connected care. I only go to the VA for service connected care, and I knew I had not signed the form. The VA billed my insurance for thousands anyway for service connected care even though I never gave them my insurance information. The VA told me they hired a private company to search out whether veterans have private insurance. They quickly found mine and billed them rather than check my medical record to see I was service connected.
The FOIA response not only revealed the name of this company the VA uses, but revealed what information the VA provides that company. Of course, they said the form they claimed I signed could not be found, but they were sure it existed. I never got a bill for this FOIA response, but was fully prepared to go to the media If they tried.
FRANKLY, I AM “FLABBERGASTED” THAT A VET CAN BE CHARGED ANY FEE. AFTER ALL, MOST OF US HAVE “PAID” THE ULTIMATE PRICE, OUR LIVELYHOOD, IS THAT NOT ENOUGH.
WHEN YOU AFFECT SOMEBODY’S LIFE IN THE WAY THAT THE ARMED SERVICES DOES, YOU HAVE TO EXPECT TO PAY ON THE OTHER SIDE. IT IS NO “FREE RIDE” TO WANT COMPENSATION FOR “SOMETHING” THAT HAS BEEN “TAKEN” FROM YOU BY ANOTHER PERSON(THE GOVT). WHEN YOU FORCE YOUNG MEN TO FIGHT FOR CAUSES THAT ARE NOT “THEIRS”, UNDER THE “PRETENSE” THAT THEIR “FREEDOM” IS BEING THREATENED, AND THEN TURN AROUND AND TELL THEM “WAIT UNTIL WE MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A PROBLEM”, WELL, THE PROBLEM THEY HAVE IS “YOU”.
WE ARE QUICK TO “CONDEMN” THE AUTO MAKERS FOR THEIR “RECALLS”, BUT SLOW TO RECOGNIZE THE GOVT ‘S “STALLS”. LET US BE “FAIR” AND STOP OUR “EMPLOYEES”(THE GOVT) FROM DENYING US AND NOT DOING WHAT WE “HIRED” THEM TO DO.
Ben, I imagine a few of us have spread the word regarding medical records. Why? Because when you know RIGHT FROM WRONG, those same said security officers when told, ask if you wish to AMEND the
Record when you should in fact state APPEND IT. The lies, the treatment of veterans and prolonging care, they are trying to do “DAMAGE CONTROL” Ask the question, “why is that?” Me? A person who knows my healthcare and remembered things I’d forgotten, a Director himself, top of his class, I gave him things and I know when he is mad. Watch out for those strong quiet types, they do not mince words. The VA is out for the VA public image, not for its wounded in anything from mind nor body well being. Append the record means what you stated and what the unprofessional staff stays. Also billing you for an issue you never stated was a problem, that is fraud, the test is as well. Or sending you items, witnessed by another, you politely decline, but sent to you anyway? If you wish to quote a patient, then you best do it right, its called set yourself up for a lawsuit and a well educated person will tell them, you sure do not know them well, if she argues, the point will be driven home, she won’t threaten, its facts that are stated, the meat and the bone will be gone when its done.
KEEPING IT REAL AND MAKE THEM OWN IT THIS ISN’T SPIN THE WHEEL ON A DIAGNOSIS
IT CAN MEAN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN LIFE OR DEATH OR THE ABILITY TO WALK.
“THE TRUTH SHOULD BE SET FREE!”
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