February 01, 2021

Senator Hassan Continues Her Efforts to Help Address Delays in Veterans’ Records & Benefits

Following Push from Senator Hassan, December’s COVID-19 Relief and Government Funding Package Includes $50 Million to Help Address Backlog at National Personnel Records Center

WASHINGTON – Building on her previous efforts to help ensure that veterans receive their Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits in a timely fashion, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) is urging the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), which maintains the personnel, health, and medical records of millions of veterans, to immediately use the $50 million included in the December COVID-19 relief and government funding package to address its backlog of veterans’ record requests. Many veterans and their families need documentation through the NPRC in order to get the benefits that they are entitled to.

 

“As you know, veterans depend on timely access to the personnel, health, and medical records maintained by NPRC to access their Veterans Affairs benefits,” Senator Hassan wrote to the NPRC. “The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected the NPRC’s operations, with the St. Louis–based facility’s capacity for processing requests dramatically dropping, resulting in a growing backlog of open requests. I have heard from numerous Granite State veterans about how these operational changes have led to delays in receiving the benefits they deserve and have earned. These delays in benefits can cause potentially irreparable harm to veterans’ health and financial well-being.”

 

An article published by the Union Leader discusses Senator Hassan’s latest efforts and shares why timely access to these records is so critical. The piece discusses one Granite Stater’s experience in trying to retrieve her late-father’s military records from the NPRC. Charlene Fyfe tried for over a year to track down these records but was unable to reach anyone at the center. Only after reaching to Senator Hassan’s office was Fyfe able to retrieve the documents that she needed.

 

As the article details, “Charlene Fyfe got stuck in a bureaucratic maze for more than a year, trying just to get a federal employee on the telephone as she searched for the military records of her father, Norman Levesque, 77. The Milford woman credits Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, and staff with pulling the strings necessary to get those documents to Fyfe a few weeks ago.”

 

Last year, Senator Hassan called on the NPRC to safely speed up its processing of veterans’ records after it closed down in March due to the pandemic. The NPRC responded that it needed more resources in order to tackle the growing backlog of cases. The COVID-19 relief and government funding package that Senator Hassan helped negotiate and pass into law included $50 million to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which houses the NPRC. This funding is expected to help address the backlog in completing veterans’ requests for their military service records.

 

In the letter sent to the NPRC, Senator Hassan wrote, “The $50 million in emergency funding for NARA’s Records Center Revolving Fund is in part expected to allow the NPRC to make the critical investments needed to reduce the backlog of military service records requests during the pandemic. I urge you to quickly use this emergency funding provided by Congress to safely resume the processing of all military personnel records requests by veterans.”

 

Senator Hassan is also requesting additional information from the NPRC, including how many records request are currently backlogged and whether the emergency funding from Congress will be used to staff the Center’s customer service line and help modernize its record management systems.

 

To read the Senator’s letter, click here or see below.

 

Dear Mr. Ferriero,

 

I write to you today to urge you to swiftly implement a plan to address the growing backlog of veterans’ records requests using the emergency funding provided by Congress in the recent appropriations and COVID-19 relief package.

 

As you know, veterans depend on timely access to the personnel, health, and medical records maintained by NPRC to access their Veterans Affairs benefits. The COVID-19 pandemic has severely affected the NPRC’s operations, with the St. Louis–based facility’s capacity for processing requests dramatically dropping, resulting in a growing backlog of open requests. I have heard from numerous Granite State veterans about how these operational changes have led to delays in receiving the benefits they deserve and have earned. These delays in benefits can cause potentially irreparable harm to veterans’ health and financial well-being.

 

I appreciate your response to my previous letter regarding the continuing delays in the processing of veterans’ records requests at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) that is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Like you, I remain deeply concerned by the extensive backlog of record requests at the NPRC and the impact of this backlog on veterans. In your December 10, 2020 reply to me, you wrote that as of November 30, 2020, the backlog totaled 381,000 requests and that this backlog would likely grow to 445,000 by the end of 2020. I am encouraged by steps taken by NARA and NPRC leadership and employees to strengthen ties with the VA and to expand work shifts to expedite the processing of records requests. At the same time, more must clearly be done to reduce the significant backlog of requests while ensuring the safety of the NPRC workforce.

 

In response to this growing backlog and your proactive communication with members of Congress, I was pleased that we were able to include emergency funding to support the processing of military service records in the bipartisan COVID-19 relief package signed into law on December 27, 2020. The $50 million in emergency funding for NARA’s Records Center Revolving Fund is in part expected to allow the NPRC to make the critical investments needed to reduce the backlog of military service records requests during the pandemic.

 

I urge you to quickly use this emergency funding provided by Congress to safely resume the processing of all military personnel records requests by veterans. By February 24, 2021, please provide responses to the following questions on the plan to work through the backlog of requests:

 

  1. What is the NPRC’s current backlog of records requests and how many of these requests come from veterans? If possible, please provide my office with monthly updates of these figures through June 2021.
  2. How is the emergency funding provided by Congress being used? Please include any detailed plans developed specifically to reduce the backlog of veterans’ requests.
  3. You indicated in your letter that the NPRC’s customer service line is not currently staffed because it is located on-site at the main facility and transitioning to a remote operation would require additional resources. Will any of the emergency funding be used to transition the call center to remote operation?
  4. Will either the emergency funding or regular appropriations be used to facilitate the digitization of older records? If so, what is the expected timeline for that transition? What additional resources would be required to complete that process?

 

Again, thank you and the dedicated public servants at the NARA and the NPRC for working to address the needs of our veterans during these difficult times. I look forward to continuing to work with you to address the backlog of veterans’ record requests.

 

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