There are various reasons why someone may want to obtain unclaimed war medals. If you are a family member of a deceased veteran you may want find out what awards if any were given to the veteran and claim them for a memorial. Such medals do not need to be from the recent past; the West Virginia state archives has a long list of unclaimed medals for union civil war veterans (See Resources). Before you start your search to claim war medals, make sure you have all pertinent information regarding the veteran, including military ID number and social security number.
If you can, determine what types of medals and awards you'll be seeking. Knowing certain specifics, like rank and military position will help you find the medals even more quickly.
A key source of information about awards is the veteran's military retirement documentation (DD Form 214), which will list all of the medals and awards that the veteran received. To request of copy of this document, go to the website of the National Archives (See References). To obtain this record you must be a veteran or next of kin and readily have the military ID and social security number of the veteran.
Once you know what medals or awards you wish to claim, go back to the National Archives website and click on the "Replacement Medals and Awards" option, and then click on the "eVetRecs" option to request your medal online (See Resources). eVetRecs allows you to create and send a form of request electronically to the Department of Defense. Again, to receive the awards through eVetRecs you must be a military veteran or the next of kin to a deceased veteran.
If you would rather fill out a paper form than process a request electronically, print out Form SF-180 from the Archives website or ask for the form to be mailed to you. (See Resources). Form SF-180 is used to claim medals from the National Personnel Records Center. This step is best if you are the next of kin of a deceased veteran and is typically the quickest way to obtain military records.
Another way to determine what awards a veteran has received is to contact the Human Resources Command. They will have records on veterans and their awards, if any.