LAMB CALLS FOR FIX TO VETERANS’ RECORD BACKLOG
(WASHINGTON, DC) – Today, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced an allocation of vaccines for National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) employees so that they may resume processing military personnel, health, and medical records requests and address the backlog of requests due to the closure of the facility amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Representative Conor Lamb (PA-17), a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC), has been advocating for a resolution to this matter which is affecting veterans and their families in PA-17. The vaccination plan will enable a safe return to work for many NPRC employees who have been working remotely since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last November, Lamb joined 232 Members of Congress in a bipartisan letter urging NPRC to implement new policies to ensure veterans had access to their service records in response to a high volume of calls his office received. One such constituent was a 102-year-old WWII veteran on hospice who requested his military personnel files so that Veterans Benefits Administration could process his claim for the benefits he had earned. Because this was not considered a life or death situation, the request was not expedited, and the constituent died without receiving benefits.
“My office has been inundated with requests for help from veterans and their families who have been unable to access their military service records, and that is absolutely unacceptable,” said Lamb. “Expanding vaccination opportunities for NPRC employees will help resolve this request backlog and get veterans the help they need. But we also need to find a way to securely bring our archive system into the 21st century to ensure this never happens to the veterans who have served our country again.”
VA Secretary Denis McDonough testified at a March 25th HVAC hearing on the importance of addressing the records request backlog. The NPRC has struggled to keep up with requests for veterans’ records since operations were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago, and there is a current backlog of 480,000 requests. NPRC is a division of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
The American Rescue Plan provided $272 million for VA to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic on the benefits claims and appeals backlog. The funding will be used to increase staff overtime; expand Veterans Benefits Administration-funded scanning of service records from federal records facilities impacted by COVID-19; improve scheduling of hearings; and enhance contact center functions.
Click here to read the VA’s press release about their agreement with the NARA to assist in providing COVID-19 vaccines to staff supporting VA claims processing.