House lawmakers introduce bill to address NARA veterans’ records backlog

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House lawmakers have introduced legislation to address the backlog of veterans’ record requests at the National Archives and Records Administration.

The Access for Veterans to Records Act was introduced Thursday, co-sponsored by Reps. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., Gerry Connolly, D-Va., Cori Bush, D-Mo., and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn.

If It passes, the bill would authorize $60 million for NARA to directly address the backlog, and require the agency to include target timeframes for reducing the backlog as well as detailed steps to improve infrastructure and customer service.

The proposed legislation also would require NARA to submit a plan for eliminating the backlog to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, as well as the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Currently, the backlog of requests for records from the National Personnel Records Center, which is a NARA sub-agency, stands at 600,000. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the delay in responding to requests from veterans for their service records swelled as staff struggled to telework. Among the difficulties faced by NPRC is that many records have yet to be digitized.

The records are crucial for veterans to receive service-related benefits, including medical treatment, unemployment assistance and emergency housing services. 

In October, lawmakers on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform called on the inspector general of the National Archives and Records Administration to investigate a backlog of veterans’ records requests during the pandemic.

This came after lawmakers in July wrote to NARA suggesting the organization apply to the Technology Modernization Fund for assistance in clearing the records backlog.

Commenting on the new legislation, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Carolyn Maloney, D.N.Y., said: “It’s clear that our veterans’ records system is in desperate need of reform.  With a global pandemic contributing to longer waits for thousands of veterans and their families to get the benefits they rightfully deserve, it’s time to ensure the federal government has the necessary resources to process records requests quickly,” 

She added: “This commonsense bill will help provide the funding the National Personnel Records Center urgently needs to modernize its information technology and shore up its workforce to ensure records processing is just a click away.”

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House Oversight and Reform Committee, NARA, Office of the Inspector General