VA C-File: What is it, and How Do I Obtain a Copy?
What is a VA C-File?
A VA claims file, often called a C-file, is a collection of records kept by VA in connection to a veteran’s disability claims. When a veteran first files a claim for benefits, VA will request the veteran’s service records and any medical records relevant to the claim. As your claim progresses, your claims file will grow. Any additional claims you file will be added to your existing C-File as well.
Claims files can be anywhere from hundreds to thousands of pages long, and typically vary from veteran to veteran. Generally, the longer a case has been pending, the larger the C-File due to the amount of evidence and appeals involved in the case. When an initial claim is filed, the C-File is usually small due to the lack of evidence and materials that have been gathered at that point.
What Does a VA C-File Look Like?
Until the 1990s, VA C-Files were entirely paper-based. All of a veteran’s service records, medical records, claims, and appeals were gathered together and used to create a hard-copy claims file. These C-Files were not organized in chronological order or any specific format. Therefore, veterans and their representatives were required to go through each document to annotate and make sure it was relevant to the veteran’s claim, which proved to be a very time-consuming process.
VA recognized that paper C-Files were a major problem and, as a result, began to digitize everything. Now, when veterans or their representatives request a copy of a claims file, it comes on a compact disc (CD) in its entirety.
How Big are Claims Files?
Claims files can be anywhere from dozens to thousands of pages long, and the length varies from veteran to veteran. Generally, the longer a case has been pending, the larger the file due to the amount of evidence and appeals involved in the case. When a claim is filed, the claims file is typically small due to the lack of evidence and materials that have been gathered at that point.
What Documents Are Included in a Veteran’s C-File?
Generally speaking, a C-File includes information veterans send to VA, records VA obtains on their behalf, and documents created by VA. Some of the most basic documents found in a veteran’s C-File include the following:
DD-214, Report of Separation from Service
A veteran’s DD-214 form includes information about their character of service, which can determine eligibility for disability benefits. It also includes a veteran’s dates and locations of service, specialties, any medals received, and other pertinent information about their term(s) of service.
Application for Benefits
Any applications or claims for benefits that veterans have previously submitted should be included in the C-File. In addition to original claims, subsequent appeals should be present as well.
Denial Letters, Rating Decisions, and Code Sheets
If you have been denied benefits, there should be a letter in your C-File notifying you of the decision to deny you benefits. VA also issues Rating Decisions explaining why benefits were granted, denied, or remanded, and why certain evaluations were assigned. All Rating Decisions issued should be located in a veteran’s C-File. A document known as a code sheet should also be included along with the Rating Decision. The code sheet indicates a veteran’s disability ratings along with the effective dates of the benefits and corresponding amount of monthly compensation.
There are several types of medical records that can be found within a VA C-File including, but not limited to, the following: (1) copies of service medical records if VA requested them while gathering information to decide your claim; (2) records from VA Medical Centers or private treatment centers where you receive medical care; and (3) Compensation and Pension (C&P) Examination reports in which VA healthcare professionals evaluated your disability and made a recommendation as to whether your disability should be granted service connection or assigned a specific rating.
As mentioned above, if you have already filed a claim and that claim was denied, the following documents may be in your C-File depending on the review option you selected:
- VA Form 20-0995, Veteran’s Supplemental Claim Application
- VA Form 20-0996, Application for Higher-Level Review
- VA Form 10182, Notice of Disagreement
How to Obtain a VA C-File
Obtaining your VA C-File is a very important initial step in the disability claims process. As mentioned above, the C-File contains service records, service medical records, post-service treatment records, VA correspondence, C&P examinations, VA correspondence, and VA’s legal documents such as decisions and appeals. Essentially, it contains all of the information necessary for VA to decide your claim. Therefore, it is beneficial for veterans to look through their C-Files to ensure all of the information is accurate and accounted for.
Veterans can obtain their C-Files by requesting a copy from their local VA Regional Office. VA is required to gather this information to assist your VA claim under its duty to assist. Usually, veterans must submit VA Form 3288, Request for and Consent to Release of Information from Individual Records.
It can take many months to receive the C-File back from VA after the request is submitted. If a significant amount of time goes by and a veteran has not yet received their C-File, they have the option to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request.
Submitting a FOIA request allows groups or individuals to request documents that are considered public records from government agencies, such as VA. If a veteran decides to go in person to the Regional Office, they may be able to view and get a copy of what is in the paper version of the file on the same day; however, they will have to wait longer for access to the electronic files. Importantly, veterans can also enlist the help of a legal representative to obtain the C-File on their behalf.