“Frustration” is undoubtedly the word that has to come to mind to Veterans and family members who have requested military service records in the past year. And, as with so many things recently, the primary culprit is the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Archives and Records Administration is responsible for maintaining all military service records through its National Personnel Records Center facility in St. Louis. The NPRC usually employs approximately 600 people to service and respond to Veterans’ records requests. In addition, these records only exist in paper form, taking up more than 2 million cubic feet. To fulfill a request involves an NPRC employee to physically locate and copy the record. Simply going to a computer screen and entering some information to retrieve the needed information is, regrettably, not an option.
Due to the pandemic and COVID-19 protocols, the facility was only able to accommodate 10 percent of the usual workforce. Having to physically look up each request is a challenge in a normal year. On average, more than 20,000 requests come in each week from Veterans, families and organizations such as Veterans Care Coordination. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that there is currently a huge backlog of unfilled records requests – a number that surpassed 480,000 as of early March.
There is good news on gaining headway and eliminating this backlog. With vaccines and lowering virus infection rates, more employees are being allowed back into the NPRC offices. In addition, double-shifts and weekend work has been approved to further assist with the accumulation of unfilled requests.
Emergency funding from Congress has also been used to hire additional staff and contractors to help alleviate this unsettling situation.
The Chief Operating Officer of the National Archives and Records Administration, William J. Bosanko, understands the frustrations faced by those who need their records requests fulfilled.
“We’ve begun making progress and we’re fully committed to not only eliminating the backlog but changing our processes to better support veterans and their families in the future and to be better prepared for similar, health-related closures,” he said. “We will do everything possible to return to normal service levels as quickly and efficiently as we can while keeping our staff safe.”
The backlog at NARA has had a significant effect on getting homecare to our Veterans; a requirement of the VA benefit Pension w/Aid & Attendance, the benefit we specialize in here at VCC, is to have a certified DD214 with the application to be approved. Unfortunately, not all families have the discharge paperwork, and this is where VCC can help as we work closely with NARA to obtain the DD214. Pre-COVID, on average, we would have the document within 1-2 weeks, which has turned into 4-6 months now, with a constant weekly email to management with status updates. Valerie Lister, Sales Manager Client Care/Intake, stated, “As frustrating it is for us at VCC, I can’t imagine what the families are going through that are doing this on their own. VCC employees have weekly contact with our families to let them know that we are doing everything we can.” Still, it doesn’t change the fact that the Veterans that desperately need this benefit to pay for homecare are losing out because of NARA’s backlog.
Veterans Care Coordination helps alleviate the paperwork frustration for the families of Veterans so they can focus on their loved one. The benefit to the agency is we push this through for the family with the end goal in mind, the client having the option to receive home care for as long as needed.