Freedom of Information Act Request

What is FOIA?

FOIA stands for the Freedom of Information Act. It is a statute and it is a way that we can actually request documents that are considered public records from government agencies, in particular from VA.

To submit a FOIA request is very simple:

    • You need to submit a written request for the information that you’re seeking to the FOIA service for the agency that you’d like the information from.There’s a webpage on the VA website about how to use the FOIA service.
    • You just need to be able to describe with enough detail the documents that you’re seeking.

Can anyone seek records? It doesn’t just have to a law firm for example?

    • No, it can be an individual. It can be somebody acting on behalf of an individual or in our case, it can be a law firm.

If you make a request, if one makes a request under FOIA, does the government have to turn over everything?

    • Well, If the documents that you’re seeking are disclosable under FOIA, and they’re public records, they should eventually turn them over. But, there are many exemptions under the statute that they might claim apply and forbid disclosure of the documents so you might run into some hurdles that way.

Are there any costs associated under FOIA that you have to pay for example?

    •  Yes. There can be costs associated if you request voluminous documents or you know several thousand pages of documents that get turned up in response to your request. But usually, the FOIA service officer will send you an estimate and ask if you would like to accept the charges and receive the documents. So you do have a way out before you’re charged the cost.

So you will get some kind of written notice either yes, we’re going to turn over the documents or yes, if you pay a hundred dollars, we’re going to turn the documents or no? We’re not going to turn over the documents at all.

    • Yes. Right. We’re not going to turn over the documents at all.

If the VA says, “No, we don’t want to turn over those documents.” What are the options then?

    • If they give you a letter that says, you know essentially denying your request and then they give you the reasons why they don’t believe they have to produce the documents, you do have a way to appeal those determinations. Usually, those letters will give you instructions for how to submit an appeal. So if you are not satisfied with the denial or you believe that it was incorrectly made, you can file of an administrative appeal within the agency as to that determination.

Iif the VA continues to deny it or whatever agency, Do you have the right to go to U.S. district court?

    • Yes. As long as you follow the procedures for the appeal, you can end up in court.

In practical terms, why would we as a law firm want to use FOIA?

    • We find that FOIA is most useful when we identify certain problematic trends in the agency or we notice that the agency is making decisions on a regular basis that are based upon a misstatement of the law or a misinterpretation of the law. So when we notice a problem like this that’s more systemic, more global, it’s affecting a lot of our clients, we try to submit a FOIA request for information that might help us uncover why this problem is ongoing at the agency level and maybe what information we can obtain to help us make the best arguments that we can on our clients’ behalf.
    • It’s really an opportunity for us to see what the agency is doing sort of on a global level in some cases, and then to prepare our best arguments for those clients to help them win their claims.

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