A few days ago, the VA’s own blog, VAndage Point, published a retrospective article concerning the infamous 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), St. Louis. The article can be access at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/22133/the-nprc-records-fire-of-1973/.
As the article explains, the fire “destroy[ed] 80 percent of Army personnel records for soldiers discharged between 1 Nov 1912 to 1 Jan 1960 and 75 percent of the Air Force records of Airmen discharged between 25 Sep 1947 to 1 Jan 1964 (with surnames beginning with Hubbard and running through the end of the alphabet) has never been found.”
In my experience, the NPRC has done a pretty good job of reconstructing records in the ensuing years. This is why I always requesting a copy of the veteran’s Official Military Personnel Record (NPRC) upon initial representation through the submission of a SF 180, even if the veteran was previously informed his/her records were destroyed. Between the veteran’s own recollection of events, reception of the OMPF, and reception of the C-File (the VA’s own adjudicative file), I am usually able to diagnosis what, if any, records are missing and hopefully develop a remedial plan of action.
As it comes to Title 38 (VA regulations), the VA will attempt to use secondary records to establish the factual predicate for records found to be destroyed or missing. Indeed, in Washington v. Nicholson, 19 Vet. App. 362, 372 (2005), the CAVC directed that the VA “under a heightened duty to consider and discuss the evidence of record and supply well-reasoned bases for its decision as a consequence of the missing [military records]”). This includes a heightened duty to consider lay evidence (e.g., “buddy statements”, statements from the veteran). See M21-1mr, Part III, Subpart III, 2.E. However, there is no presumption of service connection or presumption of any factual element for a veteran due to the loss or destruction of military records. See Cromer v. Nicholson, 19 Vet. App. 215 (2005), aff’m, 455 F.3d 1346 (2006).
For easy reference I have uploaded the relevant section of the VA Adjudication Manual at M21-1MR, Part III, Subpart III, 2.E.1. If a veteran or family member has any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at sdirector@FRE-L.com or (732) 382-6070.