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entitled 'Veterans' Disability Benefits: VA Can Improve Its Procedures 
for Obtaining Military Service Records' which was released on December 
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Report to the Ranking Democratic Member, Committee on Veterans' 
Affairs, House of Representatives: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 

GAO: 

December 2006: 

Veterans' Disability Benefits: 

VA Can Improve Its Procedures for Obtaining Military Service Records: 

GAO-07-98: 

GAO Highlights: 

Highlights of GAO-07-98, a report to Ranking Democratic Member, 
Committee on Veteransí Affairs, House of Representatives 

Why GAO Did This Study: 

The Ranking Democratic Member, House Committee on Veteransí Affairs, 
asked GAO to determine (1) whether VAís internal assessments indicate 
its regional offices are complying with the requirements of the 
Veterans Claims Assistance Act (VCAA) of 2000 for obtaining military 
service records for veteransí disability compensation claims and (2) 
whether VBA could improve its procedures for obtaining military service 
records for claims involving post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

What GAO Found: 

The Department of Veterans Affairsí (VA) internal assessments indicate 
its regional offices generally comply with VCAAís requirements for 
obtaining military service records for veteransí compensation claims. 
For example, of the decisions made by regional offices on compensation 
claims during the first half of fiscal year 2006, Veterans Benefits 
Administration (VBA) quality reviewers found that less than 4 percent 
contained errors involving failure to obtain military service records. 
Similarly, of the appealed compensation cases decided by the Board of 
Veteransí Appeals during November 2004-January 2006, the board remanded 
less than 3 percent to VBA for rework due to deficiencies in obtaining 
military service records. However, VBA does not systematically evaluate 
the quality of research done on behalf of regional offices by a VBA 
unit at the National Personnel Records Center, where the service 
records of many veterans are stored. Regional offices rely on this unit 
to do thorough and reliable searches and analyses of records and 
provide accurate reports on the results. Without a systematic program 
for assessing the quality of this unitís work, VBA does not know the 
extent to which the information that this unit provides to regional 
offices is reliable and accurate. 

VBA potentially could improve its procedures and reduce the time 
required to process some veteransí claims for PTSD, which may result 
after a veteran participates in, or is exposed to, stressful events or 
experiences (stressors). Regional offices sometimes must turn to 
information contained in the military historical records of the 
Department of Defense (DOD) to verify the occurrence of claimed 
stressors. While regional offices are able to directly access and 
search an electronic library of such records for many Marine Corps 
veterans, they must rely on DODís U.S. Army and Joint Services Records 
Research Center (JSRRC) to research such records for all other service 
branches. The JSRRCís response time to regional office requests 
approaches an average of 1 year. However, by building on work already 
done by several regional offices to establish and use an electronic 
library of DOD military historical records for the other service 
branches, VBA may be able to greatly reduce the time required to 
process many veteransí PTSD claims. 

What GAO Recommends: 

GAO recommends that VA take the following actions. To ensure the 
quality of research done on behalf of regional offices by VBAís records 
research unit at the National Personnel Records Center, VBA should 
implement a systematic quality review program to evaluate and measure 
the accuracy of the unitís responses to regional office research 
requests. To improve timeliness in deciding PTSD claims, VBA should 
assess whether it could systematically utilize an electronic library of 
historical military records to identify veterans whose PTSD claims can 
be granted on the basis of information contained in such a library, 
rather than submitting all research requests to DODís Joint Services 
Records Research Center. VA concurred with our findings and 
recommendations. 

[Hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-07-98]. 

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click on 
the link above. For more information, contact Robert E. Robertson (202) 
512-7215 or robertsonr@gao.gov. 

[End of Section] 

Contents: 

Letter: 

Results in Brief: 

Background: 

Internal Assessments Indicate General Compliance, but VBA Has Not 
Assessed the Quality of Its Research Performed at the National 
Personnel Records Center: 

Potential Improvements in Procedures Could Reduce Time Required to 
Process PTSD Claims of Some Veterans: 

Conclusions: 

Recommendations for Executive Action: 

Agency Comments and Our Response: 

Appendix I: Scope and Methodology: 

Appendix II: Overview of Military Service Records: 

Appendix III: VA's Disability Compensation Claims and Appeals Process: 

Appendix IV: Web Sites Listed in the PTSD Rating Job Aids Section of 
VBA's Internal Network: 

Appendix V: Types of Records Researched by DOD's U.S. Army and Joint 
Services Records Research Center: 

Appendix VI: Comments from the Department of Veterans Affairs: 

Appendix VII: GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

Tables: 

Table 1: Decisions of Board of Veterans' Appeals on Compensation Cases, 
November 2004-January 2006: 

Table 2: Remand Reasons for 20,191 Issues That the Board Remanded Due 
to Regional Office Deficiencies, November 2004-January 2006: 

Table 3: Military Service Records of Individual Veterans: 

Table 4: Dates When Service Branches Changed the Storage Disposition of 
Service Medical Records and Service Personnel Records: 

Table 5: Web Sites Listed in the PTSD Rating Job Aids Section of VBA's 
Internal Network: 

Table 6: Types of Records Researched by DOD's Joint Services Records 
Research Center: 

Figure: 

Figure 1: Reasons Regional Offices Cannot Always Find Service Records 
at Expected Locations: 

Abbreviations: 

DOD: Department of Defense: 
JSRRC: Joint Services Records Research Center: 
PIES: Personnel Information Exchange System: 
PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder: 
STAR: Systematic Technical Accuracy Review: 
VA: Department of Veterans Affairs: 
VACOLS: Veterans Appeals Control and Locator System: 
VBA: Veterans Benefits Administration: 
VCAA: Veterans Claims Assistance Act: 

United States Government Accountability Office: 
Washington, DC 20548: 

December 12, 2006: 

The Honorable Lane Evans: 
Ranking Democratic Member: 
Committee on Veterans' Affairs: 
House of Representatives: 

Dear Mr. Evans: 

In fiscal year 2005, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) paid about 
$24.4 billion in cash benefits to approximately 2.6 million veterans to 
compensate them for disabling medical conditions connected to injuries 
or diseases they incurred or aggravated during active duty military 
service. During that year, VA made decisions on about 198,000 original 
disability compensation claims. Under the Veterans Claims Assistance 
Act (VCAA) of 2000, VA is assigned the duty to assist veterans in 
obtaining any records relevant to their claims, provided the veterans 
adequately identify such records so that VA is able to request them. In 
addition to military service records, relevant records can include, for 
example, records related to medical treatment provided by VA or private 
health care providers and disability decisions made by the Social 
Security Administration. When needed to make a decision, the act also 
requires VA to obtain a medical opinion or a current medical 
examination of the veteran. VA relies on the Veterans Benefits 
Administration (VBA) and its 57 regional offices to meet the 
requirements of this law. Failure to comply with the requirements for 
obtaining relevant records could result in veterans not receiving 
benefits they deserve. You asked that we determine (1) whether VA's 
internal assessments indicate regional offices are complying with the 
law's requirements for obtaining military service records and (2) 
whether VBA could improve its procedures for obtaining military service 
records for claims involving post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

To address this request, we obtained and analyzed the federal 
regulations promulgated by VA to implement the duty-to-assist 
provisions of the Veterans Claims Assistance Act; VBA's written 
procedures for obtaining military service records from appropriate 
custodians, such as the National Personnel Records Center; VBA's user 
manuals for automated systems that regional offices use to request 
military service records from certain custodians; VBA's procedures for 
and data from its reviews of the quality of regional office decisions; 
and procedures of and data from the Board of Veterans' Appeals for its 
reviews of regional office decisions appealed by veterans. In the 
process of collecting and analyzing such documents and data, we 
interviewed key officials of VBA and its regional offices, the board, 
veterans' advocacy groups, and custodians of military service records. 
For more details on our scope and methodology, see appendix I. We 
conducted our work during November 2005 to December 2006 in accordance 
with generally accepted government auditing standards. 

Results in Brief: 

VA's internal assessments indicate that regional offices generally 
comply with the requirements of the Veterans Claims Assistance Act for 
obtaining veterans' military service records. The VBA quality review 
unit has found that less than 4 percent of regional office compensation 
decisions contain errors involving regional offices' failing to obtain 
military service records as required by the act. Similarly, data 
compiled by the Board of Veterans' Appeals show that when the board 
remands appealed compensation cases to VBA for rework, only about 3 
percent of the reasons for such remands involved regional offices' 
failing to comply with the law's requirements for obtaining military 
service records. However, VBA does not systematically evaluate the 
quality of research done on behalf of regional offices by a VBA unit at 
the National Personnel Records Center, where the service records of 
many veterans are stored. Although regional offices rely on the VBA 
unit at the National Personnel Records Center to do thorough and 
reliable searches and analyses of records and provide accurate reports 
on the results, VBA does not have a systematic program for assessing 
the quality of this VBA unit's work and, therefore, does not know the 
extent to which the information that this unit provides to regional 
offices is reliable and accurate. 

VBA potentially could improve its procedures and reduce the time 
required to process some veterans' claims of PTSD. This disorder may 
result after a veteran participates in, or is exposed to, stressful 
events or experiences (stressors) occurring during combat, prisoner-of- 
war detainment, or noncombat events, such as plane crashes, sinking of 
ships, explosions, burn ward duty, and graves registration duty. When 
verifying the occurrence of claimed stressors, regional offices 
sometimes cannot find needed evidence in the veteran's own service 
records and must turn to information contained in the military 
historical records of the Department of Defense (DOD). While regional 
offices are able to directly access and search an electronic library of 
such records for many Marine Corps veterans, they must rely on a DOD 
research organization to research such records for all other service 
branches. The DOD research organization's average response time to 
regional office requests approaches 1 year. However, VBA may be able to 
build on work already done by several regional offices to establish an 
electronic library of DOD military historical records for the other 
service branches and greatly reduce the time required to process the 
PTSD claims of many veterans. 

We are recommending that the Secretary of the Department of Veterans 
Affairs direct the Under Secretary for Benefits to (1) implement a 
systematic quality review program of records research performed by the 
VBA unit at the National Personnel Records Center and (2) assess 
whether VBA could improve its timeliness in deciding PTSD claims by 
systematically utilizing an electronic library of historical military 
records to identify veterans whose PTSD claims can be granted. 

Background: 

Veterans submit their disability compensation claims to 1 of VBA's 57 
regional offices. These claims contain, on average, five disabling 
medical conditions that the veteran believes are service connected. For 
each claimed condition, VA must determine if credible evidence is 
available to support the veteran's contention of service connection. VA 
grants service connection for an average of three of the five 
conditions claimed by a veteran. Key sources of evidence for 
determining service connection are veterans' military service medical 
and personnel records. To determine service connection in some cases, 
VA also may need to obtain information from DOD historical military 
records for the units in which veterans served. 

VBA's regional offices face a complex task in obtaining veterans' 
military service records because (1) service records consist of 
numerous types of records that can originate from numerous sources 
within or outside DOD, (2) the process for collecting and storing 
service records has varied substantially for different groups of 
veterans over time, (3) service records cannot always be found at the 
expected storage locations, and (4) the service records of many 
veterans were destroyed by a fire in 1973 at the National Personnel 
Records Center, a primary repository for service personnel and medical 
records. For detailed information on military service records, 
including the types and locations of the records and the process for 
collecting and storing them, see appendix II. 

Once a claim has all the necessary evidence, the regional office 
evaluates the claim and determines whether the claimant is eligible for 
benefits. If a veteran disagrees with a regional office's decision on 
any of the issues in his or her claim, the veteran may file an appeal 
with the Board of Veterans' Appeals, requesting a more favorable 
decision. In many cases, the board finds it cannot make a final 
decision on a veteran's appeal until VBA does additional work on the 
case. In such cases, the board sends (remands) the case back to VBA to 
perform the necessary additional work. The additional work required for 
remands can include making initial or follow-up attempts to obtain 
relevant records in accordance with the requirements of the Veterans 
Claims Assistance Act.[Footnote 1] Under the act, if relevant records-
-such as military service records--are believed to be in the custody of 
a federal agency, VBA's regional offices must continue requesting the 
records until either the agency provides the records or the regional 
office is reasonably certain the records do not exist or that further 
efforts would be futile.[Footnote 2] VA's regulations state that the 
regional office cannot discontinue its efforts unless it has obtained a 
statement from the agency advising VA that the records either do not 
exist or are not in the agency's possession. For detailed information 
on VA's disability compensation claims and appeals process, see 
appendix III. 

Internal Assessments Indicate General Compliance, but VBA Has Not 
Assessed the Quality of Its Research Performed at the National 
Personnel Records Center: 

VA's internal assessments indicate that regional offices generally 
comply with the requirements of the Veterans Claims Assistance Act for 
obtaining veterans' military service records. However, VBA does not 
have a system for assessing the reliability and accuracy of research 
done on behalf of regional offices by a VBA unit located at the 
National Personnel Records Center, where the service records of many 
veterans are stored. The VBA quality review unit that evaluates the 
accuracy of regional office decisions on compensation claims has found 
that that less than 4 percent of these decisions contain errors 
involving regional offices' failing to obtain military service records 
as required by law. Similarly, of all the compensation appeals cases 
decided by the Board of Veterans' Appeals during November 2004-January 
2006, the board remanded less than 3 percent of these cases to VBA for 
rework due to deficiencies in obtaining military service records. 
However, because VBA does not systematically evaluate the quality of 
the research done on behalf of regional offices by the VBA unit at the 
National Personnel Records Center, VBA does not know the extent to 
which the information that this unit provides to regional offices is 
reliable and accurate. 

VBA Quality Reviews Show Regional Offices Generally Comply with 
Veterans Claims Assistance Act Requirements for Obtaining Military 
Service Records: 

VBA maintains a quality review program known as the Systematic 
Technical Accuracy Review (STAR) program. VBA selects random samples of 
each regional office's compensation decisions and assesses the regional 
office's accuracy in processing and deciding such cases. For each 
decision, the STAR quality review unit reviews the documentation 
contained in the regional office's claim file to determine, among other 
things, whether the regional office complied with claims assistance act 
duty-to-assist requirements for obtaining relevant records, made 
correct service connection determinations for each claimed condition, 
and made correct disability rating evaluations for each condition 
determined to be service connected. An error in any of these decision 
elements has the potential to result in a different decision outcome. 
One of VBA's fiscal year 2007 performance goals is that 88 percent of 
compensation decisions should contain no errors that could affect 
decision outcomes, and the long-term strategic goal is 98 percent. 

STAR data from reviews of regional office decisions made during the 
first half of fiscal year 2006 showed that less than 4 percent of the 
cases reviewed contained any type of error related to the law's 
requirements for developing evidence.[Footnote 3] Because military 
service records are only one component in the overall body of evidence 
that regional offices must develop, the percentage of cases with errors 
related to military service records would be even smaller than the 4 
percent error rate. While the STAR database does not capture 
statistical data on specific types of errors in evidence development, 
it does contain quality reviewers' narrative comments on the nature of 
errors found. A VBA analysis of these narrative comments showed that 
over half of all evidence development errors were due to regional 
offices not obtaining VA medical examinations or opinions when needed 
and using inadequate medical examinations. Thus, on the basis of STAR 
data, one would conclude that errors related to military service 
records account for less than half--or about 2 percent--of all evidence 
development errors. 

Decisions of Board of Veterans' Appeals Show Regional Offices Generally 
Comply with Claims Assistance Act Requirements for Obtaining Military 
Service Records: 

Since November 2004, when the Board of Veterans' Appeals began tracking 
whether remands are the fault of regional offices, it has remanded 
relatively few cases--less than 3 percent--because of regional office 
deficiencies in obtaining military records.[Footnote 4] For example, as 
of January 2006, the board had made decisions on 41,517 compensation 
cases and had remanded at least one issue in 44 percent of these cases 
(see table 1).[Footnote 5] However, of the 41,517 cases, 25.6 percent 
contained issues that had been remanded for reasons considered to be 
the fault of the regional office, and only 2.8 percent contained issues 
remanded specifically because of deficiencies in obtaining military 
service records. 

Table 1: Decisions of Board of Veterans' Appeals on Compensation Cases, 
November 2004-January 2006: 

Type of board decision: Board decided compensation case; 
Number of cases: 41,517; 
Percentage of total cases: 100.0. 

Type of board decision: Board remanded at least one compensation issue 
in a case; 
Number of cases: 18,287; 
Percentage of total cases: 44.0. 

Type of board decision: Board remanded at least one issue in a case 
because regional office failed to meet requirements of law or 
regulations; 
Number of cases: 10,609; 
Percentage of total cases: 25.6. 

Type of board decision: Board remanded at least one issue in case 
because regional office failed to meet VCAA requirements for obtaining 
military service records; 
Number of cases: 1,147; 
Percentage of total cases: 2.8. 

Source: Board of Veterans' Appeals. 

[End of table] 

For each case decided by the appeals board, it also tracks the outcome 
of each contested issue in the case--for example, a veteran may have 
contested the denial of service connection for a specific medical 
condition and also may have asked for a higher disability rating on 
another condition for which the regional office granted service 
connection. The 41,517 compensation cases decided by the board 
contained a total of 88,156 contested issues, of which 39 percent 
(34,351) were remanded to VBA. However, of the total contested issues, 
23 percent (20,191) were remanded for reasons considered to be the 
fault of the regional offices. 

For the 20,191 issues remanded because of regional office deficiencies, 
the board identified a total of 36,812 reasons for remanding these 
issues (see table 2). Of these remand reasons, only 7.6 percent were 
related to inadequacies in obtaining military service records (service 
medical records, 3.5 percent; service personnel records, 2.4 percent; 
and military unit historical records, 1.6 percent). The predominant 
reasons for remands were deficiencies in obtaining medical examinations 
or opinions and nonmilitary records and in providing proper due 
process. 

Table 2: Remand Reasons for 20,191 Issues That the Board Remanded Due 
to Regional Office Deficiencies, November 2004-January 2006: 

Remand reasons: Board remanded issue because regional office failed to 
meet requirements for: 

* Providing proper notification; 
Total reasons: 4,325; 
Percentage of total: 11.7. 

Remand reasons: * Providing proper due process; 
Total reasons: 7,456; 
Percentage of total: 20.3. 

Remand reasons: * Obtaining medical exam or medical opinion; 
Total reasons: 13,356; 
Percentage of total: 36.3. 

Remand reasons: * Obtaining nonmilitary records; 
Total reasons: 8,884; 
Percentage of total: 24.1. 

Remand reasons: * Obtaining military service records; 
Total reasons: 2,791; 
Percentage of total: 7.6. 

Remand reasons: * Service medical records; 
Total reasons: 1,305; 
Percentage of total: 3.5. 

Remand reasons: * Service personnel records; 
Total reasons: 894; 
Percentage of total: 2.4. 

Remand reasons: * Military unit historical records; 
Total reasons: 592; 
Percentage of total: 1.6. 

Total; 
Total reasons: 36,812; 
Percentage of total: 100. 

Source: Board of Veterans' Appeals. 

[End of table] 

Focusing only on issues in which veterans asked the appeals board to 
grant service connection for a medical condition that the regional 
office had denied, the board identified about 12 percent of the reasons 
for remanding service connection issues as being related to 
inadequacies in obtaining military service records. 

VBA Lacks Systematic Quality Review of Research Performed by the VBA 
Unit Located at the National Personnel Records Center: 

To obtain service records stored at the National Personnel Records 
Center, regional offices submit requests to a VBA unit located at the 
center, asking the VBA unit to provide copies of service records and/or 
provide information contained in the records. This unit responded to 
such requests from regional offices for about 290,000 cases in calendar 
year 2005. For certain types of compensations claims, such as herbicide 
exposure and PTSD claims, VBA's written procedures instruct regional 
offices not to request a copy of the veteran's entire service personnel 
record, which can be voluminous. Instead, regional offices are supposed 
to rely on the VBA unit at the National Personnel Records Center to 
obtain the veteran's files, perform a physical search of the files for 
relevant records, provide copies of only certain specified records, 
analyze certain types of records, and provide regional offices with 
narrative answers on the results of their research and analyses. Thus, 
regional offices rely on the VBA unit at the National Personnel Records 
Center to do thorough and complete searches of records, do reliable 
analyses of records, and provide accurate and clear narrative reports 
on the results. 

VBA, however, does not have a systematic quality review program that 
evaluates the accuracy of the work that the VBA unit at the National 
Personnel Records Center performs on behalf of the regional offices. 
Such a program is needed as part of an adequate system of internal 
management controls for VBA's administration of the compensation 
program. An example of why the records research done by VBA employees 
at the National Personnel Records Center must be reliable is provided 
by disability claims based on exposure to herbicides in Vietnam. Under 
the Agent Orange Act of 1991, VA presumes that any veteran who had set 
foot on land in the Republic of Vietnam at any time during the Vietnam 
era (January 9, 1962, to May 7, 1975) was exposed to herbicides such as 
Agent Orange.[Footnote 6] If any such veteran files a claim for certain 
specified diseases that have been determined to be attributable to 
herbicide exposure, VA must presumptively grant service connection to 
the veteran for such diseases. If a veteran claims that he or she was 
officially stationed on land in Vietnam during that period, the VBA 
unit at the National Personnel Records Center should be able to verify 
this fact by examining standard personnel forms in his or her service 
personnel file. However, if a veteran who was not officially stationed 
on land in Vietnam claims that on some occasion he or she did set foot 
on land in Vietnam during that period, VBA may encounter more 
difficulty obtaining the evidence needed to verify the veteran's claim 
because standard personnel forms would not document such occasions. 

In such cases, VBA procedures instruct regional offices not to ask for 
the veteran's entire service personnel file, but instead, the regional 
office must ask the VBA unit at the National Personnel Records Center 
to search the veteran's personnel file for any evidence that might 
corroborate his or her claim of having set foot on land in Vietnam. One 
regional office that we visited provided an example of how the VBA unit 
at the National Personnel Records Center could overlook corroborating 
evidence contained in the file and cause a significant delay of 
benefits for a veteran. In this particular case, an Air Force veteran 
claimed that he had been assigned to an aircraft that had landed and 
spent a short time on the ground in Vietnam during the presumptive 
period. The VBA unit at the National Personnel Records Center did not 
provide the regional office with evidence supporting this claim, and 
the regional office ultimately denied the claim. However, the veteran 
appealed the decision to the Board of Veterans' Appeals, which remanded 
the case to the regional office and ordered the regional office to 
obtain and review the veteran's entire personnel file. After obtaining 
the entire file from the National Personnel Records Center, the 
regional office found documents in the file that provided sufficient 
evidence to conclude that the veteran's claim was credible. If the VBA 
unit at the National Personnel Records Center had found and reported 
this evidence to the regional office during the initial claims process, 
the veteran's claim could have been granted without his having to go 
through the appeals process. 

Also, for many PTSD claims, regional offices potentially must rely on 
the VBA unit at the National Personnel Records Center to do thorough 
research of personnel records. PTSD results from personal exposure to 
traumatic events (stressors) that can occur during combat events; 
noncombat events--such as plane crashes, ships sinking, explosions, 
burn ward duty, or graves registration duty--and personal assault. For 
such claims, if evidence substantiates that a veteran engaged in a 
combat event, the veteran's own testimony is sufficient to substantiate 
the occurrence of a claimed stressor associated with that event. If 
engagement in combat is not substantiated, then the regional office 
must seek other evidence substantiating the occurrence of the stressor 
claimed by the veteran. 

Only for PTSD claims involving personal assault do VBA's procedures 
instruct regional offices to request a copy of the entire personnel 
file from the National Personnel Records Center. Routinely requesting 
the entire file for personal assault cases is permitted because such 
cases can involve personal and sensitive incidents that sometimes are 
not officially reported. Therefore, the entire file needs to be 
examined for indications of changes in behavior or performance that may 
have been related to the alleged rape or assault. For all other types 
of PTSD stressors claimed by veterans, the documents that regional 
offices may routinely request from the veterans' service personnel 
files do not include performance reports or written justifications for 
awards and commendations. According to regional office officials, 
however, these documents sometimes can contain evidence that supports a 
veteran's PTSD claim. As a result, the regional offices depend on the 
VBA employees stationed at the National Personnel Records Center to 
read such documents and report any supporting evidence to the regional 
office. 

Officials of VBA's Records Management Center--which oversees the work 
of the VBA unit at the National Personnel Records Center--informed us 
they are considering implementing a systematic program for reviewing 
the quality of all types of research work performed by this unit. 
Although a quality review function is already in place, only one 
analyst has been responsible for reviewing a 3 percent random sample of 
each employee's work products. Given the volume of work products and 
limited time because of other duties, the analyst told us he examined 
few actual service record files to assess the accuracy of the work done 
by the employees. Instead, the analyst had resorted to using 
professional judgment to assess whether the content of the responses 
that employees provided to regional offices appeared reasonable in 
light of the nature of the request to which they were responding. Only 
if the analyst thought the response content looked questionable did he 
actually obtain the service record files and examine the records to 
determine the accuracy of the response. For example, the analyst told 
us that in a recent month he had reviewed actual service record files 
for only 17 of the approximately 700 responses randomly selected for 
review. 

According to officials of the VA Records Management Center, they are 
considering establishing a team of three or four full-time quality 
review specialists that would report to the director of the VA Records 
Management Center. If implemented, this team would review the quality 
of work done by VBA employees at the National Personnel Records Center 
and at the VA Records Management Center. The team would continue to 
randomly select a 3 percent sample of each employee's completed work 
products prepared in response to regional office requests. However, 
unlike the current review, to determine accuracy, the new team would be 
able to review the actual service record files for all responses 
selected for review. A quality review specialist position description 
has been developed, but at the time of our review, implementation 
milestones for the new system had not been established. 

Potential Improvements in Procedures Could Reduce Time Required to 
Process PTSD Claims of Some Veterans: 

VBA potentially could improve its procedures and reduce the time 
required to process some veterans' PTSD claims. During fiscal years 
1999-2004, the number of veterans receiving compensation benefits 
because of PTSD increased by about 80 percent, from about 120,000 to 
almost 216,000.[Footnote 7] VBA potentially could improve its 
procedures to reduce the time required to process some veterans' PTSD 
claims. To verify the occurrence of claimed stressors, regional offices 
sometimes cannot find needed evidence in the veteran's personal service 
records and must turn to information contained in the military 
historical records of DOD. While regional offices are able to directly 
access and search an electronic library of such records for many Marine 
Corps veterans, they must rely on a DOD research organization--the U.S. 
Army and Joint Services Records Research Center (JSRRC)--to research 
such records for all other service branches.[Footnote 8] JSRRC's 
average response time to regional office requests for such research 
approaches 1 year; by contrast, VBA's average processing time strategic 
goal for claims involving disability compensation issues is 125 days. 
The opportunity may exist for VBA to establish an electronic library of 
DOD military historical records for the other service branches and 
greatly reduce the time required to process the PTSD claims of many 
veterans. 

According to VBA's procedures, if the regional office verifies that a 
PTSD claimant engaged in combat or was a prisoner of war, the 
claimant's own personal testimony is sufficient evidence to verify the 
occurrence of a stressor associated with the combat or the prisoner-of- 
war experience. Otherwise, the regional office must obtain other 
credible evidence to verify the claimed stressor. For Marine Corps 
veterans from the Vietnam era and the Korean conflict, the regional 
office can electronically view and search a set of compact discs 
provided by the Marine Corps University Archives. These discs contain 
Marine Corps historical records for the Vietnam era (1960-1975) and the 
Korean conflict. Officials of regional offices we visited estimated 
that, on average, they can perform these electronic searches of Marine 
Corps records in less than a day. If the regional office cannot find 
the needed corroborative evidence on the compact disks, the regional 
office must ask the Marine Corps University Archives to search its 
records for any evidence corroborating the veteran's claim, and only if 
the Marine Corps University Archives cannot find corroboration may the 
regional office deny the veteran's PTSD claim. 

By contrast, for veterans of armed service branches other than the 
Marine Corps, DOD has not created an electronic historical library of 
records that regional offices can search when the veteran's service 
medical or personnel records do not provide evidence to verify 
engagement in combat or to verify the claimed stressor. Instead, VBA's 
procedures call for regional offices to ask JSRRC to conduct research 
of military historical records of the units in which veterans served in 
order to provide the needed corroboration.[Footnote 9] Many of the 
records that JSRRC may search are voluminous, are not stored 
electronically, and must be searched manually (see app. V for 
information on such records). After conducting its research, JSRRC 
provides the regional office a summary of its findings but does not 
evaluate evidence, render opinions, make conclusions, or decide the 
merits of a claim. According to its Director, the center has 13 full- 
time-equivalent employees and a steady backlog of about 4,000 cases, of 
which about 85 percent come from VBA regional offices; the remaining 
requests are submitted by individual veterans and veterans service 
organizations. 

In our visit to VBA's Oakland regional office, we learned that the 
regional office recently had begun a local initiative in which the 
regional office had designated three employees who--when other decision-
making duties permit--search an electronic library of unclassified 
historical military records compiled by the Chicago regional office's 
military records specialist. According to the Chicago regional office's 
military records specialist, several other regional offices also have 
been provided this electronic library. The Oakland regional office 
employees doing this research and the Chicago regional office military 
records specialist stated that they have been able to find sufficient 
evidence in the electronic library to grant service connection for a 
substantial portion of PTSD cases that otherwise would have required 
that the regional office ask the JSRRC to search for evidence 
corroborating the veteran's claim. According to these officials, they 
can complete these searches within a few weeks after being asked to do 
the search. These regional offices now request searches by JSRRC for 
PTSD cases only if sufficient evidence cannot be found in the 
electronic library to grant service connection. The Director of JSRRC 
told us that such research by regional offices could greatly reduce 
JSRRC's backlog of research requests and reduce the average response 
time, assuming JSRRC's staffing level remained constant. 

A related issue is that some veterans may not be willing to disclose to 
regional offices certain details needed to process their PTSD claims 
because the claimed stressful event occurred during classified 
operations. For example, to alleviate the possibility of such 
reluctance on the part of hundreds of thousands of veterans who had 
participated in classified atmospheric atomic testing and possibly been 
exposed to nuclear radiation, the Secretary of Defense issued a 
memorandum in 1996 authorizing such veterans to divulge to VA the name 
and location of their command, duties performed, dates of service, and 
related information necessary to validate exposure to nuclear 
radiation. Similarly, in PTSD cases for which regional offices cannot 
find sufficient evidence in veterans' service records to grant the 
claims, if the veterans, because of concerns about classified 
operation, will not provide the regional office with certain minimum 
details, the regional office will not be able to submit requests to 
JSRRC to search military historical records for corroborating evidence. 
We discussed the classified operations issue with the Director of 
JSRRC, who stated that he personally had talked with veterans who had 
directly contacted his organization and who maintained they could not 
divulge to him the details of their participation in classified 
operations. He said that after he explained to them that the entire 
JSRRC staff are DOD employees and have appropriate security clearances, 
the veterans were willing to provide him with the details needed to 
conduct searches of DOD records, including any pertinent classified 
records maintained by DOD. While the extent of the classified problem 
is unknown, the Director had no objections to regional offices advising 
veterans to directly contact JSRRC if they are unwilling to disclose 
sufficient details to the regional office to process their claims 
because their disabilities allegedly were incurred during classified 
operations. 

Conclusions: 

VA is responsible for providing reasonable assurance that it is 
complying with applicable laws and regulations. While VA's internal 
assessments indicate that its regional offices generally comply with 
the requirements of the Veterans Claims Assistance Act for obtaining 
military service records, VA does not have a systematic quality review 
program for ensuring the reliability and accuracy of records research 
done on behalf of regional offices by the VBA unit located at the 
National Personnel Records Center. As a result, VA cannot reasonably 
ensure the quality of the research on which regional offices rely to 
assist many veterans in obtaining service records relevant to their 
compensation claims. 

PTSD claims have been a growing portion of the claims processed by 
regional offices. Many present challenges in obtaining the evidence 
needed to process them, resulting in veterans having to wait for long 
periods for their claims to be decided. VBA's establishment of a claims-
processing timeliness performance goal demonstrates that high- quality 
service should result not only in correct decisions, but also decisions 
rendered in a reasonable length of time. The experience of several 
regional offices suggests that VBA could improve its timeliness in 
deciding the PTSD claims of many veterans nationwide if VBA 
systematically utilized an electronic library of historical military 
records such as the one compiled by the Chicago regional office. The 
average time for the Joint Services Records Research Center to respond 
to such requests is about 1 year; by contrast, officials in some 
regional offices have found that using the online library compiled by 
the Chicago regional office enabled them to find sufficient evidence in 
a matter a few weeks to grant the PTSD claims of many veterans. 

Recommendations for Executive Action: 

We recommend that the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs 
direct the Under Secretary for Benefits to take the following actions. 

* To adequately ensure the quality of the records research done on 
behalf of regional offices by the VBA unit at the National Personnel 
Records Center, VBA should move forward in implementing a systematic 
quality review program that evaluates and measures the accuracy of the 
unit's responses to all types of regional office research requests. 

* To improve its timeliness in deciding PTSD claims, VBA should assess 
whether it could systematically utilize an electronic library of 
historical military records, such as the one compiled by the Chicago 
regional office, to identify veterans whose PTSD claims can be granted 
on the basis of information contained in such a library, rather than 
submitting all research requests to the Joint Services Records Research 
Center. 

Agency Comments and Our Response: 

In its written comments on a draft of this report (see app. VI), VA 
agreed with our findings and concurred with our recommendations. VA 
stated it had increased the number of VBA quality reviewers at the 
National Personnel Records Center in order to better ensure the quality 
of responses provided to regional offices. VA also noted that VBA will 
determine the feasibility of regional offices' using other databases to 
research cases in order to reduce the number of cases sent to the 
JSRRC. We believe these are positive steps toward ensuring the quality 
of the records research done by the VBA unit at the National Personnel 
Records Center and improving timeliness. 

As agreed with your office, unless you publicly announce it contents 
earlier, we plan no further distribution until 30 days after the date 
of this report. At that time, we will send copies of this report to the 
Secretary of Veterans Affairs, appropriate congressional committees, 
and other interested parties. The report will also be available at 
GAO's Web site at [Hyperlink, http://www.gao.gov]. 

If you or your staff have any questions regarding this report, please 
call me at (202) 512-7215. Contact points for our Offices of 
Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on the last 
page of this report. Other contacts and staff acknowledgments are 
listed in appendix VI. 

Signed by: 

Robert E. Robertson: 
Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues: 

[End of section] 

Appendix I: Scope and Methodology: 

To identify Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) procedures for 
obtaining relevant military service records, we obtained and analyzed 
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) regulations governing the 
processing of compensation claims; VBA's written procedures, user guide 
for the automated system for requesting military records, training 
materials, and other VBA instructions for directing regional offices' 
efforts in obtaining military records; locally written procedures and 
guides developed by regional offices to direct their employees in 
obtaining military records; and information electronically available to 
regional offices through VBA's internal network. 

To gain an operational context for the information obtained from these 
sources and to obtain stakeholders' views on the effectiveness of VBA's 
procedures for obtaining relevant military service records, we 
interviewed officials of VA's Board of Veterans' Appeals and Office of 
Inspector General; VBA's Compensation and Pension Service, Office of 
Field Operations, Appeals Management Center, Records Management Center, 
VA Liaison Office at the National Personnel Records Center, and 
regional offices located in Atlanta, Georgia, Baltimore, Maryland, 
Oakland, California, and St. Petersburg, Florida; custodians of 
military records and organizations that research military records on 
behalf of VBA's regional offices, including Department of Defense (DOD) 
U.S. Army and Joint Services Records Research Center, Defense Threat 
Reduction Agency, DOD Joint Requirements and Integration Office, and 
National Personnel Records Center, which is operated by the National 
Archives and Records Administration; and veterans' advocacy groups, 
including Disabled American Veterans, American Legion, Veterans of 
Foreign Wars, Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, National Veterans 
Legal Services Program, and state and county veterans service agencies. 

As part of our review of the results of VA's internal assessments of 
regional offices' compliance with Veterans Claims Assistance Act 
requirements for obtaining military service records, we assessed the 
reliability of fiscal year 2006 data compiled by VBA from its 
Systematic Technical Accuracy Review (STAR) program for regional office 
decisions involving compensation issues. In earlier GAO work on STAR 
data reported for fiscal year 2004, we reported that regional offices 
had failed to send any case files to the STAR unit for hundreds of 
cases randomly selected for quality review, which meant the possibility 
existed that if the STAR unit had actually been able to review the 
files for these cases, the accuracy scores for some individual regional 
offices could have been lower than those reported for fiscal year 
2004.[Footnote 10] Subsequently, the STAR unit began tracking the 
receipt of cases randomly selected for review. For our current work, we 
followed up with the STAR unit to determine the extent to which 
regional offices now send to the STAR unit all cases selected for 
quality review. We obtained data from the STAR unit and concluded that 
the numbers of cases requested, received, and reviewed for the first 
half of fiscal year 2006 provided nationwide data that were 
sufficiently reliable for our reporting purposes. Even so, the STAR 
unit did not receive about 6 percent of the cases selected for review 
during the first half of fiscal year 2006; therefore, because the STAR 
unit might have found additional VCAA development errors if it had had 
the opportunity to review these cases, the percentage of cases actually 
containing Veterans Claims Assistance Act (VCAA) development errors may 
have been larger than indicated by the fiscal year 2006 data reported 
by the STAR unit. 

Also, as part of our review of VA's internal assessments of regional 
offices' compliance with VCAA requirements for obtaining military 
service records, we assessed the reliability of data recorded in the 
Veterans Appeals Control and Locator System (VACOLS) by the Board of 
Veterans' Appeals on the results of its reviews of veterans' appeals on 
compensation decisions made by regional offices. We obtained data as of 
January 31, 2006, on all compensation cases decided by the board since 
November 1, 2004, when the board began recording in VACOLS whether its 
remands of decisions to VBA for rework were due to regional office 
deficiencies. To assess the reliability of the VACOLS data, we 
interviewed knowledgeable board officials, performed electronic testing 
of pertinent VACOLS data elements, and reviewed existing information 
about the data and the system that produced them. We determined that 
the data were sufficiently reliable for the purposes of this report. We 
analyzed these data to create summary statistics on the disposition of 
compensation cases and issues decided by the board. 

[End of section] 

Appendix II: Overview of Military Service Records: 

VBA's regional offices face a complex task in obtaining veterans' 
military service records because (1) service records consist of 
numerous types of records that can originate from numerous sources 
within or outside DOD, (2) the process for collecting and storing 
service records has varied substantially for different groups of 
veterans over time, (3) service records cannot always be found at the 
expected storage locations, and (4) the service records of many 
veterans were destroyed by a fire in 1973 at the National Personnel 
Records Center, a primary repository for service personnel and medical 
records. 

Service Records Are Numerous and Can Originate from Numerous Sources: 

The cumulative service medical records and service personnel records of 
individual service members contain numerous types of records that can 
originate in varying organizations and geographic locations of DOD's 
activities as service members migrate from assignment to assignment 
during their military service (see table 3). 

Table 3: Military Service Records of Individual Veterans: 

Category: Medical records; 
Type of record: 
* Physical examination reports, including entrance and discharge exam 
reports; 
* Medical history; 
* Dental examinations and records; 
* Inpatient clinical record cover sheets and summaries; 
* Entries from outpatient medical and dental treatments; 
* Physical profiles; 
* Medical Evaluation Board proceedings in DOD's disability evaluation 
process; 
* Prescriptions for eyeglasses; 
* Prescriptions for orthopedic footwear. 

Category: Personnel records; 
Type of record: 
* Entry; 
* Training; 
* Education; 
* Performance; 
* Discipline; 
* Decorations and awards; 
* Assignments; 
* Duties; 
* Casualty status; 
* Separation or retirement from the military; 
* Certain health records (usually limited to entrance/separation 
physical exam reports but may include physical profiles and medical 
evaluation board proceedings). 

Source: VA. 

[End of table] 

Process for Collecting and Storing Service Records Varies Substantially 
for Different Groups of Veterans: 

Historically, when service members separated from active duty, all DOD 
service branches forwarded all service medical records and service 
personnel records to the National Personnel Records Center in St. 
Louis, Missouri. However, beginning in the early 1990s, separation 
point military installations began sending service medical records to 
VA's Records Management Center, also located in St. Louis. The timing 
of this changeover varied among service branches, but as of May 1998, 
all branches had begun sending service medical records to the VA 
Records Management Center for service members who are discharged from 
active duty and have no remaining military reserve or National Guard 
obligation (see table 4, col. 2).[Footnote 11] Also, in 1996, the Navy 
became the first DOD service branch to store service personnel records 
electronically in optically imaged files, which permitted the Navy to 
discontinue sending these records to the National Personnel Records 
Center. As of November 2005, all DOD service branches were storing 
service personnel records electronically and had discontinued sending 
such records to the National Personnel Records Center (see table 4, 
col. 3). 

Table 4: Dates When Service Branches Changed the Storage Disposition of 
Service Medical Records and Service Personnel Records: 

(1) Service branch: Army; (
2) Date when service branch began sending service medical records to 
the VA Records Management Center rather than to the National Personnel 
Records Center[ A]: October 16, 1992; 
(3) Active duty release date of veterans for whom service branch stores 
service personnel records electronically as optically imaged files[B]: 
October 1, 2002. 

(1) Service branch: Navy; 
(2) Date when service branch began sending service medical records to 
the VA Records Management Center rather than to the National Personnel 
Records Center[ A]: January 31, 1994; 
(3) Active duty release date of veterans for whom service branch stores 
service personnel records electronically as optically imaged files[B]: 
January 1, 1996. 

(1) Service branch: Air Force; 
(2) Date when service branch began sending service medical records to 
the VA Records Management Center rather than to the National Personnel 
Records Center[ A]: May 1, 1994 (active duty only); June 1, 
1994(reserves/National Guard); 
(3) Active duty release date of veterans for whom service branch stores 
service personnel records electronically as optically imaged files[B]: 
November 2005. 

(1) Service branch: Marine Corps; 
(2) Date when service branch began sending service medical records to 
the VA Records Management Center rather than to the National Personnel 
Records Center[ A]: May 1, 1994; 
(3) Active duty release date of veterans for whom service branch stores 
service personnel records electronically as optically imaged files[B]: 
January 1, 1998. 

Source: VA and DOD. 

[A] Although the service medical records sent to the VA Records 
Management Center include military inpatient clinical record cover 
sheets and summaries, these records do not include detailed clinical 
records, such as daily treatment records and nurses' notes. Military 
medical facilities maintain these detailed clinical records until a 
preset period of inactivity has elapsed and then forward such records 
directly to the National Personnel Records Center. Civilian medical 
facilities that treat active duty service members do not forward any 
medical or mental health records for storage and destroy such records 
after a period of inactivity. 

[B] Each service branch also electronically stores service personnel 
records as optically imaged files for veterans who were released from 
active duty before the date in column 3 but whose reserve obligations 
did not expire until after this date. 

[End of table] 

When service members have military reserve or National Guard 
obligations remaining at the time of their release from active duty, 
the service branches may not route their service records in the same 
way that they route the records of those who do not have such an 
obligation when released from active duty. For service members who 
still have reserve or guard obligations at the time of their release, 
the disposition of their service records varies depending on their 
service branch, whether their obligation is a reserve versus guard 
obligation, and whether or not they are assigned to an active unit at 
the time of release from active duty. 

VA and DOD jointly initiated a Benefits Delivery at Discharge program 
that enables service members still on active duty to file disability 
compensation claims within 6 months before separating from active 
military duty. Under this program, VBA arranges for a physical 
examination of the claimant, and the service branch provides a VBA 
liaison with a copy of the claimant's service medical records. The 
liaison sends these records to one of the two VBA regional offices 
(Winston-Salem and Salt Lake City) that process all claims filed under 
this program. The regional office prepares a rating decision prior to 
the claimant's discharge from active duty, and after the claimant's 
discharge, the service branch sends the regional office a copy of the 
claimant's DD Form 214 (Report of Release from Active Military 
Service), and the regional office immediately authorizes benefits. As 
of April 2005, 141 military installations worldwide were participating 
in the Benefits Delivery at Discharge program, and in fiscal year 2004, 
and VBA processed 39,000 claims under this program. Additionally, if a 
service member not participating in this program submits a VA 
disability claim form to his or her service branch before separating 
from active duty, the service branch retains the claim form until the 
individual separates from active duty and then forwards his or her 
claim form, DD Form 214, and service medical records to the regional 
office having jurisdiction over the individual's permanent address. 

Veterans' Service Records Cannot Always Be Found at Expected Storage 
Locations: 

To request veterans' service records, regional offices rely primarily 
on a VBA system known as the Personnel Information Exchange System 
(PIES). This system provides regional offices with a menu of record 
request codes, each of which is defined in terms of the types of 
service records and/or information being requested by the regional 
office. On behalf of the regional offices that input such requests into 
the PIES system, the VA Records Management Center prints and mails 
requests to custodians of records maintained in paper form, and the 
PIES system electronically routes requests to custodians of service 
personnel records maintained in optically imaged files. However, for a 
variety of reasons, the custodians whom regional offices expect to be 
in possession of requested records cannot always provide the records 
(see fig. 1). 

Figure 1: Reasons Regional Offices Cannot Always Find Service Records 
at Expected Locations: 

[See PDF for image] 

Source: VA. 

[End of figure] 

Fire in 1973 Destroyed the Military Service Records of Many Veterans: 

The service records of many older veterans were destroyed by a fire in 
1973 at the National Personnel Records Center. The fire destroyed the 
records of approximately 80 percent (16 million to 18 million) of the 
Army veterans who served during November 1912 through January 1, 1960, 
and the records of 75 percent of the Air Force veterans with surnames 
Hubbard through Z who were discharged between September 25, 1947, and 
January 1, 1964, and were not in a retired or reserve status at the 
time of the fire. For some of these veterans, the National Personnel 
Records Center has resources that can help reconstruct some of their 
service medical information. For example, the center has Army morning 
(sick) reports for November 1912 to December 1974 and Air Force morning 
reports for September 1947 to June 1966. Also, in 1988, the National 
Personnel Records Center obtained magnetic tapes containing limited 
information extracted by the Surgeon General's Office from about 10 
million hospital admission records for veterans admitted to military 
hospitals during 1942-1945 and 1950-1954. 

Another alternative is for VA to ask the veteran's service branch to 
search sick logs, morning reports, and records of military 
organizations, hospitals, and infirmaries. Other alternative sources 
for medical information can include statements from service medical 
personnel; buddy certificates or affidavits; state or local police 
accident reports; employment physical examinations; medical evidence 
from hospitals, clinics, and private physicians that may have treated 
the veteran during or soon after separation; letters written by the 
veteran during service; photographs taken during service; pharmacy 
prescription records; and insurance examinations. 

[End of section] 

Appendix III: VA's Disability Compensation Claims and Appeals Process: 

[See PDF for Image] 

Source: Prepared by GAO using information from VBA and the Board of 
Veterans' Appeals. 

[End of Figure] 

[End of section] 

Appendix IV: Web Sites Listed in the PTSD Rating Job Aids Section of 
VBA's Internal Network: 

Table 5: Web Sites Listed in the PTSD Rating Job Aids Section of VBA's 
Internal Network: 

U.S. Air Force. 

Air Force Historical Research Agency; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://www.au.af.mil/au/afhra/]. 

Air Force Historical Studies Office; 
Site: [Hyperlink, https://www.airforcehistory.hq.af.mil/]. 

U.S. Army. 

Korean War history page; 
Site: [Hyperlink, 
http://korea50.army.mil/history/factsheets/index.shtml]. 

1st Infantry Division Web site; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://www.1id.army.mil/]. 

Center of Military History; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/default.htm]. 

Army Engineers Vietnam Studies, 1965-1970; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://www.army.mil/cmh-
pg/books/Vietnam/Engineers/index.htm]. 

Human Resources Command, Military Awards Branch; 
Site: [Hyperlink, https://www.hrc.army.mil/indexflash.asp]. 

Military History Institute, Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, MHI 
Digital Library Chronological List; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://carlisle-www.army.mil/usamhi/]; [Hyperlink, 
http://carlisle-www.army.mil/usamhi/dl/chron.htm]. 

Unit Citation and Campaign Participation Credit Register (January 1960- 
September 1987); 
Site: Regional offices can access an electronic copy of Army Pamphlet 
672-3 stored on VBA's internal network. 

U.S. Coast Guard. 

Coast Guard Historian's Office; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://www.uscg.mil/hq/g-cp/history/collect.html]. 

Coast Guard Web site; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://www.uscg.mil/USCG.shtm]. 

U.S. Marine Corps. 

Database Search for Combat Action Ribbon; 
Site: [Hyperlink, 
https://lnweb1.manpower.usmc.mil/manpower/mm/mmma/AwardsVerification.nsf
/search]. 

History and Museums Division; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://hqinet001.hqmc.usmc.mil/HD/Home_Page.htm]. 

Marines Web site; 
Site: [Hyperlink, 
http://www.usmc.mil/marinelink/mcn2000.nsf/frontpagenews]. 

U.S. Navy; Site: [Empty]. 

Navy, Naval Historical Center; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://www.history.navy.mil/]. 

Navy Hospital Corps and Dental Technician History Page; 
Site: [Hyperlink, 
http://navymedicine.med.navy.mil/bumed/index.cfm?docid=10324]. 

Navy Service and Campaign Medals; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://www.history.navy.mil/medals/index.html]. 

Navy Web site; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://www.navy.mil/]. 

Department of Defense. 

Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illness, Gulflink; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/]. 

Official U.S. Military Casualty Information; 
Site: [Hyperlink, 
http://www.dior.whs.mil/mmid/casualty/castoptest.htm]. 

POW/Missing Personnel Office; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/]. 

Other. 

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, DANFS Online; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/]. 

John C. Thorn, Links to Military Web Sites; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://www.thorn.pair.com/thorn/links/military.html]. 

National Archives, Online Veterans and Military Documents; 
Site: [Hyperlink, 
http://www.archives.gov/veterans/research/online.html]. 

National Center for PTSD; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://www.ncptsd.va.gov/index.html]. 

National Transportation Safety Board Aircraft Accidents; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/query.asp]. 

No-Quarter.Org, Vietnam Casualty Search Page; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://www.no-quarter.org/]. 

VBA Denver Regional Office, Military Awards, Decorations, Campaigns; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://vbaw.vba.va.gov/ro/west/denvr/awards.htm]. 

Vietnam Project/Virtual Vietnam Archive; 
Site: [Hyperlink, http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/vietnamarchive/index.htm]. 

Source: VBA. 

Note: In an introductory note regarding the Web sites listed above, the 
PTSD Rating Job Aids Section in VBA's internal network states that the 
information found at these Web sites--as well as any other government 
Web sites (.gov or .mil)--may be used to verify stressors and the 
claimant's involvement in the stressful event. The note also states 
that while many nongovernment Web sites may contain additional 
supporting documentation, information from those Web sites--including 
any links to nongovernment Web sites found within the approved sites 
listed above--cannot serve as the sole basis for verification. 

[End of table] 

[End of section] 

Appendix V Types of Records Researched by DOD's U.S. Army and Joint 
Services Records Research Center: 

Table 6: Types of Records Researched by DOD's Joint Services Records 
Research Center: 

Army; 
Daily journals: These daily logs of a unit's activities record names, 
locations, times, and specific incidents and operations. These are the 
most useful records for verifying stressors, but because they are so 
voluminous, it is imperative that the regional office provide a 
specific date span, preferably 7 days or less; 
Operational reports- lessons learned: These are quarterly reports 
documenting a unit's major operations and activities and often include 
unit locations, strengths, operations and results of operations, 
casualties, statistical reports, and recommendations for improvement; 
Unit and organizational histories: These documents describe the general 
activities of Army units for a particular period of time--normally 6 
months or 1 year. The quality of these histories varies greatly from 
unit to unit and may contain everything from extremely detailed 
descriptions of battles to changes in command and flag-raising 
ceremonies; 
Morning reports DA Form 1: Morning reports contain a daily accounting 
of personnel actions at the company level. More specifically, they list 
the transfer, arrival, and departure of individual service members. 
They also contain the name and status of service members wounded in 
action, killed in action, and missing in action. The Army ceased using 
morning reports in 1974; 
Casualty records: Casualty records contain information on the type of 
casualty, location, type of attack, cause and type of injury, and 
possible prognosis. They also contain the service member's unit, rank, 
military occupational specialty, date of casualty, date of report, name 
of individual making the report, witnesses, and place of treatment. 
These records are arranged alphabetically by last name. In order to 
research effectively, complete last names are required; complete last 
and first names are preferred. In order to identify the correct 
individual, service numbers and Social Security numbers may be 
required. 

Air Force; 
Quarterly historical reports: Quarterly historical reports are divided 
into functional areas such as supply, aircraft maintenance, civil 
engineering, and personnel. Major units maintain these records. The 
information maintained is largely useless for the purpose of verifying 
specific stressful events. This makes it imperative that Air Force 
veterans provide detailed descriptions of their claimed stressors; 
Other records: Morning reports have not been maintained by the Air 
Force since 1964. The Air Force Military Personnel Center, Randolph Air 
Force Base, Texas, maintains Air Force casualty information. The Air 
Force does not publish combat after-action reports, daily journals, 
situation reports, or operations reports- lessons learned. 

Navy; 
Deck logs and ship histories: Deck logs record all unusual or 
significant enemy action. The Officer of the Deck records the 
information at a minimum of once each 4 hours. Deck logs are the only 
ship logs sent to the Naval Historical Center for archiving. A deck log 
is a daily chronology of certain events specified in Office of the 
Chief of Naval Operations Instruction 3100.7 (OPNAVINST 3100.7). Deck 
logs are bulky, voluminous documents that track a ship's location and 
movements daily. In cases of deaths and injuries suffered on board, the 
log should contain the simple fact of the death or injury and note 
whether medical treatment was given, but it does not specify the 
treatment or contain reports on medical matters, such as sick bay 
visits or injuries not suffered on board ship; 
Navy shore station histories and ship histories - These documents are a 
compilation of significant events for the year; 
Muster rolls - These rolls record assignments of individuals to and 
from ships and stations; 
Other records - The Navy Military Personnel Command maintains a 
centralized listing of all Navy combat casualties. Other Navy records 
include war diaries. The Navy does not publish combat after-action 
reports, daily journals, and situation reports of operations reports-
lessons learned. 

Source: VBA. 

[End of table] 

[End of section] 

Appendix VI: Comments from the Department of Veterans Affairs: 

The Secretary Of Veterans Affairs: 
Washington: 

November 27, 2006: 

Mr. Robert E. Robertson: 
Director: 
Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues: 
U. S. Government Accountability Office: 
441 G Street, NW: 
Washington, DC 20548: 

Dear Mr. Robertson: 

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has reviewed your draft report, 
Veterans' Disability Benefits: VA Can Improve Its Procedures for 
Obtaining Military Service Records (GAO-07-98) and agrees with your 
findings and concurs with your recommendations. The enclosure details 
VA's actions to implement the Government Accountability Office's 
recommendations. VA is committed to providing accurate and expeditious 
claims processing for our Nation's veterans. 

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on your draft report. 

Sincerely Yours, 

Signed by: 

R. James Nicholson: 

Enclosure: 

Enclosure: 

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Comments to The Government 
Accountability Office (GAO) Draft Report, Veterans' Disability 
Benefits: VA Can Improve Its Procedures for Obtaining Military Service 
Records (GAO-07-98): 

GAO recommends that the Secretary of Veterans Affairs direct the Under 
Secretary for Benefits to take the following actions: 

* To adequately ensure the quality of the records research done on 
behalf of regional offices by the VBA unit at the National Personnel 
Records Center, VBA should move forward in implementing a systematic 
quality review program that evaluates and measures the accuracy of the 
unit's responses to all types of regional office research requests. 

Concur-The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) unit at the National 
Personnel Records Center (NPRC) has had a systematic quality review 
program in place since October 1, 2005. To strengthen the review 
process, the Director, VBA's Records Management Center (RMC) increased 
the number of quality reviewers to two employees. 

Additionally, in December 2006, the VBA unit at the NPRC will 
strengthen quality reviews further by reviewing work daily. Cases 
selected for review will be taken from completed work staging areas 
from each caseworker. Cases selected for review involving record 
responses with documentation ready to be mailed to VA regional offices 
(VARO) will be reviewed and compared with the service record to 
determine the accuracy of the response. The review will occur prior to 
release of the documentation to the VARO. The quality team will also 
monitor computer generated responses (e.g. requests for verified 
service) daily. The quality reviewers will review five percent of 
monthly completed work. 

* To improve its timeliness in deciding PTSD claims, VBA should assess 
whether it could systematically utilize an electronic library of 
historical military records, such as the one compiled by the Chicago 
regional office, to identify veterans whose PTSD claims can be granted 
on the basis of information contained in such a library, rather than 
submitting all research requests to the Joint Services Records Research 
Center. 

Concur-VBA's Compensation and Pension Service (C&P) maintains a Web 
site dedicated to providing the same type of information that VARO 
Chicago compiles. This Web site provides links to other Web sites with 
information that may be used to verify stressors for post traumatic 
stress disorder (PTSD). However, C&P has limited the Web sites listed 
to those that have been scrutinized for their reliability. 

Existing VBA policy outlined in VBA Adjudication Procedures Manual M21- 
1 MR IV.ii.1.D.13.i encourages the use of the C&P PTSD Rating Job Aid 
Web site and VBA-sanctioned Web sites in the list of alternative 
sources of evidence useful in confirming participation in combat and 
corroborating claimed in-service stressors. Additionally, stressor 
verification through review of available personnel records, services 
records, and other sources such as military and government Web sites 
prior to a formal request for verification through the Department of 
Defense's (DoD) U. S. Army and Joint Services Records Research Center 
(JSRRC) was advocated in a training broadcast in September 2005. C&P is 
preparing a training letter and subsequent broadcast to provide 
instruction on proper use of the available electronic research tools in 
PTSD claims processing and to promote their widespread use prior to 
submission of requests to JSRRC. C&P's research on the reliability of 
Web sites not yet listed on its Web site is ongoing. 

The DoD has agreed that VBA should be given access to the JSRRC 
database, which contains unit organizational records for the Army, Air 
Force, Navy, and Coast Guard. VBA will assess the systematic use of 
this database and determine the feasibility of VAROs using this 
resource to research cases, thereby reducing the number of cases sent 
to JSRRC. Nevertheless, some stressor verification research requests 
will continue to require JSRRC involvement. 

[End of section] 

Appendix VII: GAO Contact and Staff Acknowledgments: 

GAO Contact: 

Robert E. Robertson, Director, (202) 512-7215: 

Staff Acknowledgments: 

The following individuals made important contributions to the report: 
Irene Chu, Assistant Director; Marta Chaffee; Martin Scire; Ira Spears; 
Vanessa Taylor; and Walter Vance. 

FOOTNOTES 

[1] Additional work required in remand orders can also include (1) 
arranging for a medical examination or obtaining a medical opinion if 
needed to make a proper decision, (2) providing veterans with all 
notices required by VCAA to inform them of evidence needed to support 
their claims, and (3) providing proper due process. 

[2] While VCAA established requirements for VA in assisting veterans to 
obtain relevant records, it did not establish any requirements 
regarding the timeliness of VBA's efforts to obtain such records. 

[3] See appendix I for discussion of the statistical reliability of 
STAR data. 

[4] To track the outcome of contested issues, VA uses a system known as 
the Veterans Appeals Control and Locator System (VACOLS), which 
contains data identifying the reason(s) each contested issue was 
remanded to VBA and whether the need to remand the issue was the fault 
of the regional office. The board would consider the remand to be the 
fault of the regional office if, for example, the regional office had 
failed to make initial or follow-up attempts to obtain relevant records 
as required by VCAA, However, if the board remanded a case because a 
change in law occurred after the regional office had sent the veteran's 
appeal to the board and additional work was needed to comply with the 
new law, the board would not consider the remand to be the fault of the 
regional office. 

[5] The board routinely reports the percentage of cases that it 
allowed, denied, and remanded. To compute the percentage of cases 
remanded versus those allowed, the board classifies cases as remands 
using a method that does not necessarily reflect all cases in which at 
least one issue is remanded. Under the board's system, if the board 
allows any issue or part of an appealed case, the board counts the 
entire case as an allowance, regardless of whether the board remanded 
any other issue in the case. 

[6] In August 2006, the U.S Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ruled 
that veterans who served in the waters off Vietnam during January 9, 
1962, to May 7, 1975, are entitled to disability benefits on the basis 
of presumption of service connection for diseases related to exposure 
to herbicides such as Agent Orange, regardless of whether they ever 
actually set foot on land in Vietnam. See Haas v. Nicholson, 20 Vet. 
App. 257 (Aug. 16, 2006). 

[7] By contrast, during that period, the total number of veterans 
receiving disability compensation grew by about 12 percent. 

[8] In rape and personal assault cases, because many incidents of 
personal trauma are not officially reported, the regional office may 
need to seek evidence from other sources, such as military law 
enforcement, rape crisis center, center for domestic abuse, counseling 
facility, health clinic, family members or roommates, faculty member, 
civilian police reports, medical reports of civilian physicians or 
caregivers who may have treated the veteran immediately or sometime 
after the incident, chaplain or clergy, fellow service persons, and 
personal diaries or journals. 

[9] If adequate evidence of engagement in combat cannot be obtained 
from primary sources such as the veteran's service records, the Marine 
Corps University Archives, or the JSRRC, the regional office may also 
use secondary sources of evidence such as buddy statements, veteran's 
military occupational specialty, contemporaneous letters and diaries, 
newspaper archives, and military or government Web sites approved by 
VBA (see listing of Web sites in app. IV). 

[10] GAO, Veterans' Benefits: Further Changes in VBA's Field Office 
Structure Could Help Improve Disability Claims Processing, GAO-06-149 
(Washington, D.C.: Dec. 9, 2005). 

[11] The Coast Guard began sending service medical records to the VA 
Records Management Center in May 1998. 

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