Some House Republicans are demanding that National Archives chief David Ferriero detail how he intends to get rid of a bureaucratic backlog that could force some veterans to wait up to two years for certain benefits.
According to Roll Call, the pandemic forced that National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, where many of the veterans’ paper records are stored, to shut down last March, while staffers worked from home.
Most of the record requests require someone to conduct a physical search for the documents in the building. A spokesperson for the National Archives told Roll Call in April the backlog has mushroomed to more than 499,000 requests and will take about 18-24 months once staffers are permitted to return to the building.
Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, in a Thursday letter, faulted the NPRC’s "lack of planning" that led to the backlog, the lack of a plan to get employees to return to the office, and the confusion surrounding the center's use of $15 million in emergency appropriations from Congress in December 2020, according to Roll Call.
The letter asked Ferriero to provide them with a briefing on his efforts to clear the backlog.
For many veterans, the records are essential to unlocking their benefits like burials, healthcare, home loans, and even COVID-19 vaccinations.
"Our military men and women and their families deserve far better than these delays. NRPC must clean up its act, address the backlog immediately, and give these families and Congress an explanation and timeline for fixing it," Oversight panel ranking member James Comer, R-Ky., said.
In April Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, traveled to the NPRC, after "months of unsatisfactory progress" in clearing the backlog, according to a statement from of his office.
The visit coincided with the release of a bipartisan letter signed by 185 representatives regarding NPRC that was penned by Davidson and Reps. Deborah Ross, D-N.C., and House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Ranking Member Mike Bost, R-Ill.
The letter to the Biden Administration and the National Archives, called "attention to the significant backlog of veteran records requests that has mushroomed during the COVID 19 pandemic."
The letter, signed by 121 Republicans and 64 Democrats, asked Biden to prioritize NPRC employees for vaccinations and testing, as well as to properly staff the call center.
The lawmakers also hope to see a plan to get employees back to work full time and consider hiring additional employees or adding extra shifts to eliminate this backlog.
"More than 870,000 North Carolinians are veterans, and we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude for their service to our country," Ross said. "The records request backlog at the National Personnel Records Center is a disservice to them and their families, and it is an issue the Biden administration must remedy quickly."
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