Archives clears backlog of vets records requests caused by COVID-19

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Officials at the National Archives and Records Administration announced Wednesday they have cleared the nearly four-year backlog of military and veteran record requests that had grown to more than 600,000 cases during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Archivist of the United States Colleen Shogan praised National Archives staffers for the last few years of focus on erasing the backlog.

“They have worked overtime and across weekends and holidays to achieve this goal and ensure we meet our obligation to those who’ve served,” she said in a statement.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. and ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the move signals relief for veterans and family members who have worried for years the backlog would further complicate the already time-consuming process of receiving veterans disability benefits.

“Pandemic-era restrictions created lingering effects that made it challenging for veterans in Kansas and across the country to receive their records, delaying access to the health care and benefits they deserve,” he said in a statement. “I applaud the dedicated workforce of the National Personnel Records Center, many of whom are veterans themselves, for their hard work to eliminate the records backlog.”

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member Mark Takano, D-Calif., echoed that sentiment, crediting President Joe Biden for keeping focus on the issue.

The record center receives about 4,000 new requests each day, many tied to eligibility for veterans disability benefits. Officials said with the backlog cleared, they expect to respond to most routine requests for separation documents in less than a week and other types of requests within 20 days.

The backlog of records requests grew rapidly starting in spring 2020 after archives offices were forced to partially close because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Agency leaders said that while operations were never fully shut down, “pandemic restrictions caused on-site production to be significantly curtailed.”

Leaders said a mix of technology improvements, new staff and contractors, and overtime work from employees helped slowly reduce the number of overdue requests. The NPRC also entered into agreements with the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2021 to expedite the digitization of records holdings, work that continues to this day.

NPRC Director Scott Levins said he expects those improvements to “position us for success for years to come.”

Veterans who wish to request records or check the status of an existing request can visit the archives website.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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