The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is asking the Defense Department to help address a massive backlog of veterans’ records requests.
More than 2 million cubic feet of military personnel and medical records are stored at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in Missouri. Veterans need the records — which only exist in paper form and cannot be accessed remotely — to support their applications for federal benefits such as home loans, medical treatment, unemployment, and more.
The backlog has been growing since March 2020, when the NPRC limited in-person operations due to the coronavirus pandemic, fulfilling only emergency requests such as for burials and life-threatening medical treatments. More than a year later, the center increased on-site staffing to 25% of the workforce but is still operating well below its pre-pandemic capacity, according to the NPRC.
About 500,000 requests are delayed and about 400,000 records need to be refiled, said William Bosanko, chief operating officer at NARA. Officials there have estimated it could take up to two years to eliminate the backlog.
Bosanko sent a letter to the Pentagon earlier this month, requesting the DOD’s help transporting up to 400,000 military personnel folders to an off-site location (to support social distancing) where DOD personnel would sort and group folders in sequential order so that NPRC staff could refile them. DOD staff then would return the batched files to the NPRC and help with refiling and digitization. DOD personnel also would help NARA find, photocopy, and mail separation documents to those who have requested them, according to Bosanko’s letter.
“We are prepared to begin immediately,” he wrote in the letter. Bosanko said he expects the project to take fewer than six months.
Members of Congress have been urging the federal record stewards to better address the backlog for months. Last Thursday, members of the House Oversight and Reform and Veterans’ Affairs committees called on the Pentagon to respond to the request promptly.
“Veterans and their families depend on timely access to personnel records in order to receive life-saving medical care, emergency housing assistance, proper military burials, and other vital benefits earned through service to our country,” their letter reads. “We urge DOD to support the NPRC’s work and to ensure that we uphold our solemn pledge to care for our nation’s veterans.”