NPRC Records Backlog Hinders Veterans Seeking VA Benefits
The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), a federal agency created to assist veterans in securing VA benefits, has recently admitted to a huge backlog of requests. This backlog, which is far more serious than previously thought, is largely due to the widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a result, hundreds of thousands of veterans have been left without access to benefits they rightfully deserve and often depend upon to support themselves and their families.
What is the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC)?
Created in 1966, the National Personnel Records Center, or NPRC, is an agency of the National Archives and Records Administration. It is part of the National Archives federal records center system and consists of two large Federal Records Centers located in St. Louis, Missouri and Valmeyer, Illinois.
The National Personnel Records Center is home to personnel-related records for both the military and civil services of the United States Government. The records held there include:
- Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) for veterans from all service branches
- Official Personnel Folders of former Federal civil servants
- Employee Medical Folders
- Military health records of discharged and deceased veterans
- Medical records of veterans, retirees, and military family members treated at military service medical facilities
Understanding the NPRC Backlog
After sending most of its staff home in March of 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) currently has operated with less than than 10 percent of its employees working in person. The NPRC has been slow to bring the majority of its staff back to the office, despite the fact that remote workers are often unable to do their jobs since most records can only be accessed on-site. As a result, the backlog has grown to approximately 500,000 requests for records.
Recent reports have indicated that it could take the records center 18 months to process all pending requests and clear the backlog. On March 8, 2021 the NPRC issued a press release announcing it would expand to “Phase 1” of reopening by the end of the month, meaning it would bring about 25 percent of employees back into the office for each shift. It also detailed efforts to digitize more of its process and expand its operating hours to expedite requests.
Impact of the Records Backlog on Veterans
In short, this backlog means that thousands of veterans have been waiting up to a year for their requests to be processed, leaving them unable to obtain service and medical records needed to secure benefits. These benefits include monthly disability compensation, assistance with burials in veterans’ cemeteries, access to VA medical centers and homeless shelters, and more.
A spokesperson for the National Personnel Records Center stated that veterans may be able to expedite requests for disability claims by going straight to the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, doing so would likely affect only a small portion of the 500,000 requests currently backlogged. The agency estimates about half of the requests in the backlog came directly from veterans, with the remainder coming from family members, descendants of veterans, veteran service officers, genealogists, professional researchers, members of the media, military historians, and other third parties.
Congress has offered some assistance in the form of an emergency allocation of $50 million to the NPRC in December 2020. These funds were intended to help the records center address its backlog safely and ensure that veteran requests are met within a reasonable timeframe. Specifically, it allowed for the purchase of more hardware for staff to work-from-home, funded 150 new staff positions, and provided resources to digitize more paper records. While these efforts are a step in the right direction, there is still much to be done to clear up this backlog and help veterans to receive their hard-earned benefits.
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