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Does anyone know the process to get information from the VA on an ancestor who was in the military from around 1889-1903?  He was in the Spanish American War and was a "Rough Rider".  He was with Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders at San Juan Hill and other places.  He was wounded at San Juan Hill and in the hospital for awhile but was still enlisted after that until at least 1903.  I appreciate any help.  Please email me at jenicoe2001@yahoo.com.. Thank you so much!

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Hi Jenni - Are you confusing the VA (Dept. of Veterans Affairs) with NARA (The National Archives)? They are two separate divisions of the Federal Government. NARA is a huge warehouse for federal records. Not just veterans records although that what most people associate with NARA. The VA pays benefits and provides health care to our veterans and in some cases their families. When a veteran or his family in the case of a deceased veteran files a claim for service connected benefits, it is the duty of the VA to obtain his records where ever they might be. Sometimes that is easy, sometimes not. (I am talking about the Veterans Benefits Administration not the VA Hospitals.) The VA came into being in 1934. Before that time VA benefits were paid by the Dept of the Interior. Generally any veteran or family member on the rolls at that time had their records sent to the VA and those records became permanent property of the VA. So if your ancestor was alive at that time and had filed a claim for VA benefits the VA should have his or her records. Or in the case of a deceased veteran a dependent filed a claim after 1934. In the case of a claim on appeal, or a pending claim the 1934 date could have been earlier. If you have checked with NARA and they don't have anything, you should try the VA or vice versa. If you want to copntact the VA to see if they have a record of your veteran call 1-800-827-1000. That will get you to a Veterans Benefits Counselor in the office nearest you. This number is good in the US only. DO NOT call a VA Hospital. They will have no idea what you are talking about.

At the time I retired 5 years ago, the VA's indexing system was not the greatest. If your veteran had a common name like John Jones, odds of finding him are not that great. The odds can be made better if you have the branch of service and service number, and what war or wars he was in. A name like Brunar Numcheck (made up name) would be considerably easier to find and you would not need additional info. Don't expect the benefits counselor to know anything about genealogy or history. Its not their job. Also don't expect them to know that the VA has records for wars as early as the Civil War. So just tell them you are trying to locate the records of so and so. Also don't let them tell you records for Civil War, Indian Wars and Spanish American War were destroyed in the 1973 fire in St. Louis. Those records start generally with 1912. If you have a veteran's claim number, you don't have to bother with identifying him or her. Just give them that number. ( Read on)

Veterans' records are indexed by a claim number. Thats what you ultimately want to find. Near the end of Vietnam they started using Social Security Numbers. But for these early records it is a claim number. Also known as a C Number or XC Number. The X denoted a deceased veteran and was added to the C Number when the veteran died. NARA has a series of rolls of microfilm at their regional libraries showing Civil War era pension claims. These are also on Ancestry.com . These are just pictures of index cards (don't get too excited.) Do get excited if you see a C-Number or XC - Number generally stamped on the card. That means the VA has the record and the claim number.

If the VA has a record of your veteran, you can obtain the record if he or she is deceased. If the veteran is alive, the veteran is the only one who can request his own records. Any request for such records has to be in writing. When I retired, the records were generally free for the first set of records. This may have changed. Hope this helps!!

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