Edmonds Military Wire: Veterans just want their benefits for Christmas

By Michael Schindler

The holidays bring out the generosity of the American people – especially when it comes toward being generous to our troops. The gift boxes, the stockings, the cards – all good, and all very much appreciated. And when our troops cycle off active duty, they can expect a treasure trove of benefits and services awaiting them, provided to them by the VA, paid for by America…unless there is poor record-keeping.

According to a recent report, “Lousy record-keeping by the military is hurting veterans who need to prove their sacrifice in order to access the benefits they’ve earned.”

In the age of technology, this is simply unacceptable.

A probe by ProPublica and the Seattle Times said that “Much of the problem arose from the military’s switch from paper to digital records in the early 1990s.”

Apparently, many records, especially from the Gulf War, were lost, leaving veterans unable to produce documentation needed for such basic benefits as disability. But the report also found that the military has also lost records from the current war in Afghanistan.

The FOX News article on this same subject reports, “The U.S. Army, which has the biggest record-keeping deficiencies, has said that it is taking necessary steps to improve document tracking with more training and guidance from top commanders. But the lapse may have stemmed from lead authority Central Command (Centcom) in Iraq, which had lost records.”

“I can’t even start to describe the dimensions of the problem,” said Conrad C. Crane, director of the U.S. Army’s Military History Institute. “I fear we’re never really going to know clearly what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, because we don’t have the records.”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to report on efforts to find and collect field records after seeing the findings of the Seattle Times/ProPublica investigation.

“Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are unable to document the location and functions of their military units could face the same type of problems experienced by Cold War veterans exposed to radiation, Vietnam-era veterans exposed to herbicides and Gulf War veterans exposed to various environmental hazards,” Murray said in a statement.

I’ll avoid giving a shameless plug to what Joint Base Lewis McChord, the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Governor’s office are collaborating on to solve this issue here in Washington state  – needless to say, this issue should be a non-issue in today’s world of technology.

Bottom line: It is time to collaborate. Protecting one’s rice bowl at the expense of our veterans is unacceptable.

Michael Schindler, Navy veteran, and president of Edmonds-based Operation Military Family, is a guest writer for several national publications, author of the book “Operation Military Family” and “The Military Wire” blog. He is also a popular keynote and workshop speaker who reaches thousands of service members and their families every year through workshops and seminars that include  “How to Battle-Ready Your Relationship” or “What Your Mother-in-Law Didn’t Tell You.”  He received the 2010 Outstanding Patriotic Service Award from the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs.

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