Democratic House lawmakers are investigating concerns that veterans have been unnecessarily paying to access service records as the National Archives works to address a requests backlog that swelled to 600,000 during the pandemic.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform signed a strongly worded letter that was sent Friday to three veteran records–retrieval companies: Aardvark Research Group, Angels Research, and DD214Direct. In the missive, lawmakers said they were worried about potential misuse of National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) procedures intended to expedite emergency records requests while charging veterans to obtain government records they are entitled to receive at no cost.
“We are concerned this practice may take advantage of veterans who need records to obtain crucial benefits and may be preventing NPRC from fulfilling true emergency requests in a timely manner,” Maloney said in a letter sent to top executives of all three companies.
The records are crucial for veterans to receive service-related benefits, including medical treatment, unemployment assistance and emergency housing services.
Each of the companies charges veterans between approximately $79 and $99 to retrieve their DD214—a government document that veterans are legally entitled to receive at no cost, according to the note sent by lawmakers.
The Defense Department issues each veteran a DD214, which identifies the veteran’s condition of discharge – honorable, general, other than honorable, dishonorable or bad conduct.
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, and each paper document must therefore be retrieved in person from the NPRC’s records center in St. Louis, Missouri.
Democratic House lawmakers in March introduced legislation to address the backlog of veterans’ record requests at the National Archives and Records Administration. The bill passed the House on July 14 by a majority of 406-21.
If the Access for Veterans to Records Act becomes law, it 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.
Aardvark Research Group, Angels Research and DD214Direct did not immediately respond to a request for comment.