Military families express growing frustration over pandemic-induced backlog of veteran records

Families of fallen heroes waiting for ‘vital documents’ from National Archives

Fox News correspondent Anita Vogel has the latest the pandemic-induced backlog on ‘The Story’

Veterans and families of fallen service members are growing frustrated over a massive backlog within the federal agency responsible for providing military records needed to receive government benefits. 

The partial shutdown of the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), an agency of the National Archives, has led to a backlog of approximately 500,000 requests. The agency has been operating at limited capacity since March of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “servicing the most urgent requests,” according to the National Archives. 

The backlog has affected some of the nation’s most honored people – veterans and their families. Tens of thousands of them are waiting to receive vital documents from the National Archives including military identification paperwork, medical benefits, spousal benefits, home loans, even paperwork to identify human remains. 

Clay Bonnyman, grandson of Lt. Alexander Bonnyman, is among those still waiting for answers. His grandfather was killed in action in the Battle of Tarawa. Bonnyman went to Tarawa and found his grandfather’s remains, but is still waiting to obtain his records – something Clay Bonnyman said might never happen. 

Lt. Alexander Bonnyman
(Courtesy: Clay Bonnyman)

“There’s tons and tons of veterans, tons and tons of families that are trying to get records, that those requests, they’re just going to pile up and pile up and pile up and who knows if they’ll ever be fulfilled,” Bonnyman said. 

Michael Krehl, grandson of Sgt. Leonard James McNeill, is still looking for his grandfather, believed to have been killed during a U.S. bombing campaign over Tokyo. Krehl has dedicated his life’s work to recovering his grandfather’s remains along with dozens of soldiers still unidentified. His efforts are stagnant as he works to obtain DNA records held by the National Archives. Krehl is pleading with the agency for access. 

Sgt. Leonard James McNeill
(Courtesy: Michael Krehl)

“Bring closure to our particular family and these other families,” Krehl said. “This is 76 years of not knowing. And the effects of not knowing what happened to a loved one in a war process, it is life-changing for not only that generation, but let me tell you, for several generations to come.” 

The NPRC acknowledged the debacle back in April.  

“We know we are failing and we know the situation is untenable, and we are eager to fix it,” NPRC Director Scott Levins told the AARP. 

Since then, the National Archives told Fox News they are working hard to make progress with added weekend shifts for employees, and hope to bring many more workers back by mid-July.  

But Bonnyman claimed the problem far predates COVID-19. 

“It’s got to be incompetence…incompetence and bureaucratic entanglement that prevents families from being able to get things that they absolutely should be able to get,” Bonnyman said. 

The National Archives has requested assistance from the Department of Defense to address the backlog. A bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter back in May to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, urging him to prioritize the request. 

“Veterans and their families depend on timely access to personnel records in order to receive life-saving medical care, emergency housing assistance, proper military burials, and other vital benefits earned through service to our country,” the letter said in part. “We urge DOD to support the NPRC’s work and to ensure that we uphold our solemn pledge to care for our nation’s veterans.” 

Despite efforts by the agency, the backlog remains an uphill battle — something the National Archives said will take nearly two years to resolve.

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