Pennsylvania vets waiting more than a year for federal records required for benefits

Some veterans are waiting a year or more for a document from the federal government enabling them to receive services they’re entitled to, according to Pennsylvania Veterans Affairs administrators.

“You would think – and this is just me saying this – in this day and age with our technological capabilities to produce scanned files of absolutely everything, we would be able to point and click and get somebody documents,” Allen Lockard, director of Indiana County Veteran Affairs, said in an interview with The Center Square.

During testimony before the Pennsylvania Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee on Tuesday, Lockard said getting a veteran’s most essential document – a DD214 – from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis is taking at least a year.

“If you withdraw more than $600 in this country, somebody knows it,” Lockard told The Center Square. “But we can’t get a document for a guy who served our country without waiting a year. It’s too long, it’s frustrating and it shouldn’t be.”

The document is issued at discharge to all active-duty service members and verifies military service for benefits, retirement, employment and membership in veterans' organizations.

“It’s been a systemic issue for years,” Lockard testified. “It's not something that's new to us – it’s not a problem because of COVID. It became a bigger problem because of COVID.”

The NPRC website states it returned to normal operations on March 7 when building occupancy limitations were lifted and the workforce was recalled to on-site work. Approximately 1,000 federal employees and contractors work at the facility. During the first two years of the pandemic, NPRC operated with building occupancy limitations base on local health conditions, according to the website.

“As a result, despite operating multiple daily shifts and working on weekends and some holidays, a large backlog of requests developed,” according to the NPRC website. “… the Center has significantly increased its production capacity and begun to reduce its backlog. However, it will take many more months before all services are restored to prepandemic levels.”

Lockard told The Center Square he assists a veteran needing a DD214 almost daily. Recently, he assisted a widow of a veteran who waited 16 months for her husband’s DD214 before she could receive a benefit.

Lockard said an online program is assisting veterans with documentation for those discharged after 2001. Veterans from the Korean and Vietnam wars can face an additional hurdle as a fire at the former NPRC in the 1970s destroyed records and required extensive recovery of information.

Brig. Gen. Maureen Weigl, deputy adjutant general for veterans affairs for the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, agreed with Lockard during the hearing and said they’ve continually communicated problems to the Department of Defense, especially concerning health records.

“There is a disconnect with getting the federal Veterans Administration and the Department of Defense to synchronize and make these processes better because it does impact at the ground level how we care for those veterans,” Weigl said.

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