You understand why the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) needs copies of your medical records before it can process your disability claim. However, you’re not sure why the VA is having trouble getting the information it needs when your medical records are all sitting in a filing cabinet at your local VA hospital. Shouldn’t the two institutions be able to work together to get the files you need to claim disability?

The VA Has a “Duty to Assist” You in Gathering Records for a VA Disability Claim

Part of the free assistance offered by the VA is a promise to help locate the medical information you need for your claim. This is called a "duty to assist" in the development of your disability claim. Under federal law, the VA should make a “reasonable effort” to locate your:

  • Federal records. The VA should make every effort to locate your federal medical records, including your records at your local VA hospital and your service medical records (SMR). The VA can only stop searching for these files if they have reason to believe the documents don't exist, or that further attempts to locate the files would be pointless. In either case, the VA is required to notify the veteran and offer possible alternatives to the records that have been requested.
  • Private records. The VA also has a duty to help you track down medical records from care received outside the VA, such as with a specialist or private doctor. The VA is responsible for sending an official request for these records. If the files are not received within two months, the VA must make another request. The VA should continue to request the records if as long as they have "reason to believe" the records exist. Private institutions often respond more slowly to records requests, so you should continue to follow up with the private doctor regularly to find track your records down.
  • Missing or lost records. Some disability cases have been derailed due to misfiling, or fires in medical records storage areas. If the records you need are owned by a federal entity and have been lost or destroyed, the VA has a "heightened duty" to locate copies of these files.

Each time the VA attempts to find your medial documents, there must be a record of the attempt on file. If your medical provider has no record of the VA’s request, the VA could be held responsible for the delay in your case. The attorneys at Cuddigan Law can investigate why your case has been held up, and can help get your disability claim approved as quickly as possible. Email us today at [email protected] to get started, or download a free copy of our book, The Essential Guide to VA Disability Claims, for more information.


Sean D. Cuddigan
Connect with me
SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska