Congressman Keller: “Our veterans fought for us. It’s time we fight for them.”
Washington, D.C. – During today’s House Committee on Oversight and Reform briefing with the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) to discuss the growing backlog of veterans’ records request, Congressman Fred Keller (R-PA) emphasized the importance of getting this issue addressed quickly so that veterans can access the benefits they have earned and deserve.
The NPRC was forced to scale down its operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is currently staffed at only 25 percent capacity. This is well below the staffing level needed to process an estimated 5,000 records requests it receives on an average day. These service records are required for veterans to access benefits, adjudicate disability claims, and request a commendation, award, or regalia such as a Purple Heart or campaign service medal.
In his opening remarks, Keller pointed to recent legislation he introduced to address the half a million instances of veterans experiencing delayed access to VA and medical benefits due to the backlog at the NPRC:
“To address this issue, I recently introduced the RECORDS Act 2021. This bill would direct the Archivist of the United States to reopen NPRC within 30 days to pre-pandemic staffing levels.”
Full text of the RECORDS Act can be found here.
Keller also noted his intention to work with the NPRC on a path forward:
“I am committed to engaging with the NPRC to move toward a solution that will allow them to address this problem as efficiently as possible. Going forward, I believe Congress, the NARA, NPRC and the VA should work together on a contingency plan so that this problem never arises again.”
In April, Congressman Keller sent a letter to David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), requesting immediate action to eliminate the backlog and demanding information about the administration’s plans to expedite records requests.
Congressman Keller participated in the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ Member Day hearing about frustrations he has heard from constituents related to the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) and its growing backlog of unprocessed requests for documentation from veterans and military families.
Full text of Congressman Keller’s opening remarks is available below:
"Thank you Chairwoman Maloney, Ranking Member Comer, Ranking Member Bost, and the bipartisan group of members involved with scheduling this briefing with the National Personnel Records Center or NPRC– I appreciate the opportunity to discuss the important issue of the backlog of veterans records requests.
In PA-12, I hear from constituents regularly about frustrations related to NPRC and the growing backlog of unprocessed requests for documentation from veterans and military families.
The NPRC houses two million cubic feet of military personnel and medical records that are currently only available in paper form.
Since in person staffing is so important for the NPRC to process requests, the COVID-19 Pandemic has presented a serious challenge. The National Archives and Records Administration, or NARA, which oversees the NPRC, estimates that there is currently a backlog of half a million unprocessed requests, including several requests from PA-12 constituents dating back as far as February of last year.
That means veterans have been waiting as long as 15 months for copies of service records in order to receive VA benefits, information needed to adjudicate disability claims, or other documentation needed to request a commendation, award or regalia such as a Purple Heart or campaign service medal.
Any delay to these requests is simply unacceptable. Our veterans earned these benefits, and it is unconscionable that their government would needlessly make them wait to receive them.
Along with several bipartisan colleagues, I have contacted the NPRC, White House and NARA to express concern, gather information and offer suggestions and congressional assistance, yet the NPRC continues to be open at only 25 percent capacity to process returns, which must be done in person.
The first step to effectively tackling this backlog of requests is to reopen the NPRC and get employees back to work safely.
It’s time for Americans to get back to work and for businesses to safely reopen, using vaccines, masks, social distancing, PPE, and other tools to minimize spread of COVID-19. If businesses can make it work, so can the government.
To address this issue, I recently introduced the RECORDS Act of 2021. This bill would direct the Archivist of the United States to reopen the NPRC within 30 days to pre-pandemic staffing levels.
Next, the NPRC needs to work with the VA to establish and roll out best practices for addressing backlogs and improving turnaround time for these requests.
Right now, the NARA is reporting that it will take another 18-24 months to fully address the backlog. This timeline must be moved up and a new strategy is sorely needed.
I am committed to engaging with the NPRC to move toward a solution that will allow them to address this problem as efficiently as possible. Going forward, I believe Congress, the NARA, NPRC and the VA should work together on a contingency plan so that this problem never arises again.
I look forward to hearing today what safeguards could be put in place. Since employees must be in the office to complete these requests, there should never be a time when there is not a plan to deliver records to veterans who served their country.
This includes thinking through how requests can be sufficiently addressed even when full-capacity staffing is not possible.
I look forward to hearing from the briefers today and working to solve this critical issue as quickly as possible so our veterans can get the level of responsiveness that they earned and deserve. Our veterans fought for us. It’s time we fight for them."