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Testimony - DAMA Lost Records - FINAL

Testimony - DAMA Lost Records - FINAL

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Published by Anthony Hardie

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Published by: Anthony Hardie on Dec 07, 2012
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12/08/2012

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STATEMENT SUBMITTED FOR THE RECORDBEFORE THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRSENTATIVES,COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS,SUBCOMMITTEE ON DISABILITY ASSISTANCE AND MEMORIAL AFFAIRSFOR THEHEARING ON VETERANS’ MILITARY RECORDSDECEMBER 4, 2012BY GULF WAR VETERAN ADVOCATES:ANTHONY HARDIE AND PAUL SULLIVANMORRIS BLAKEYBRENT CASEYDAN FAHEYWILLIAM FUZIJOEL GRAVESERIK K. GUSTAFSONMARGUERITE KNOXCHRIS KORNKVENSTEVE ROBINSONCHARLES SHEEHAN-MILESDAVID K. WINNETT, JR.MICHAEL J. ZACCHEA
Thank you, Chairman Runyan, Ranking Member McNerney, and Members and staff of the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee for today’s importanthearing on challenges related to veterans’ missing and destroyed military records, and for the opportunity to submit this testimony. Your enduring commitment to our nation’sveterans and the related oversight you provide are critical to keeping America’s promisesmade to its current and former service men and women.Records lost by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) cause significant and long-term problems for our veterans, and their advocates, when seeking VA medical care or VAdisability benefits. Today, you shall hear compelling testimony from veterans and advocates regarding major failures in military recordkeeping relevant to Post-9/11 war veterans.For example, from 2004 to 2007, “very few Operation Enduring Freedom records weresaved anywhere, either for historians' use, or for the services' documentary needs for unitheritage, or for the increasing challenge with documenting Post Traumatic StressDisorder (PTSD)."
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U.SArmy(AAMH-ZC):“ArmyOperationalRecords,DataCollection,andReadiness,”February20,2009,p.5.
 
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We understand and empathize with those veterans. We want to make this point veryclear: DOD’s poor record collection and improper record destruction began more than adecade before September 11, 2001.Our statement for the record highlights the enduring and far reaching adverse effects thatmilitary recordkeeping failures have had for the veterans of a war today all but forgotten,the 1991 Gulf War. It is critically important to note that these recordkeeping failures willcontinue to negatively impact countless thousands of our nation’s veterans until Congressacts to ensure both remedial justice and substantive policy and procedural changes.
 
First, military operational recordkeeping must immediately be remediated.
 
Second, remedies must be created for veterans negatively impacted by themilitary’s chronic recordkeeping failures.
 
Third, the many serious negative outcomes related to decades of militaryrecordkeeping failures should be aggregated and preserved as a lasting testamentof lessons learned regarding the irreparable damage, extraordinary costs, andwasted opportunities caused by these failures.
Military Recordkeeping: A Prolonged and Disastrous Decline
 The 2009 Army review cited above shows that after a 1985 reorganization of recordkeeping responsibilities, “the previously robust system …. gradually weakened,”and Army “units .... soon realized that they could ignore many of their [recordkeeping]without any serious consequences.” The result was, “a prolonged and disastrous declinein Army record-keeping training and policy enforcement and a resulting decrease in the preservation of unit operational data.”
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 Of course such unit data is often critical to veterans and their advocates later attemptingto provide critical government-produced documents as evidence in order to substantiateservice-connected disability claims filed against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs(VA), particularly in cases where personal medical and other substantiating individualrecords are unavailable or incomplete.This same Army report doesn’t mince words with regards to the impact on unit records by the time of the 1991 Gulf War, when this, “first major operational experience after Vietnam …. highlighted the virtual collapse of the Army’s operational records system”.In brief, “records management fell by the wayside….”.
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 This Army report also provides insight into why so many veterans of the 1991 Gulf War still struggle to substantiate their own VA disability compensation claims, a key prerequisite for many veterans seeking VA medical care for service-related medicalconditions, especially toxic exposures.
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ibid(Army2009)
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ibid(Army2009)
 
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“When reports of the so-called ‘Gulf War Syndrome’ began to surface shortly after theend of active combat, the mystery of its cause prompted Congress to direct the Army toinvestigate. To do so, the Army had to recreate as many of the lost, missing, or destroyedrecords to the extent possible. As a result of poor or non-existent records retention, manyArmy units were unable to accurately determine their locations, operations at given times,major incidents, and a host of other details.”
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 The systemic recordkeeping issues weren’t just limited to these administrative failureshowever. According to the Army report, “deployed historians even reported that theyhad come across units actively burning their entire collection of operations records rather than be bothered to haul them back to their home stations.”
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 The problems didn’t end in 1991. The 2009 Army report assesses that, “the recordsmanagement system remained broken,”
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for subsequent U.S. deployments to Somaliafrom 1992-94, Haiti from 1994-95, and Bosnia beginning in 1995.
Recordkeeping Failures: The 1991 Gulf War
 As but one example of the importance of military recordkeeping, piecing together theseGulf War records, had, according to the Army report cited above, “become critical whenit was suspected that Iraqi nerve agents and mustard gas were accidentally blown upalong with other captured munitions at the Khamisiyah ammunition depot shortly after the ceasefire. The resulting plume of smoke was suspected of containing toxins thatmight have been the cause of many of the symptoms of Gulf War Illness.”
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 However, despite extensive – and expensive – DOD efforts to develop Khamisiyah plume troop exposure models, a 2004 GAO review rated the DOD and CentralIntelligence Agency efforts as failures. The GAO’s conclusions, made in response to a bipartisan, bicameral Congressional request by U.S. Senator Robert Byrd andRepresentative Chris Shays, were summarized in the report’s title,
 DOD’s Conclusionsabout U.S. Troops’ Exposure Cannot be Adequately Supported 
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 This GAO review also identified other Gulf War chemical exposure events and chemicalagents, including, “17 discrete Coalition aerial bombings of the Muhammadiyatmunitions storage facility,” and that chemical warfare agents could have been similarlyreleased from a number of other facilities. “Available evidence….suggests that troop
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ibid(Army2009)
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ibid(Army2009)
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ibid(Army2009)
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ibid(Army2009)
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U.S.GeneralAccountingOffice,“
DOD’s Conclusions about U.S. Troops’ Exposure Cannot be AdequatelySupported,” June 2004. Retrieved from the Internet 11/29/2012:http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d04159.pdf 

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