(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, recently introduced legislation to ensure veterans whose military records are lost by the U.S. government through no fault of their own can still receive their earned Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits.
Named after a Montana veteran, the Senator’s Fred Hamilton Veterans’ Lost Records Act would authorize VA to grant disability compensation claims using other documentation in place of military treatment records for veterans whose records were lost after being transmitted to VA by the Department of Defense (DoD).
“It’s a complete and total failure that veterans whose medical records have been lost by the government aren’t given a fair shot at receiving the benefits and care they have earned,” said Tester. “Veterans like Fred have been fighting for decades to prove their disabilities are related to their military service all because of a mistake made by the Defense Department and VA. My bill will fix this injustice and ensure these men and women can receive their hard-earned benefits.”
Fred Hamilton is an Air Force veteran from Columbia Falls who was exposed to toxins during his military service in Vietnam and other countries. Like countless others, Fred’s military treatment records were lost through no fault of his own after being transmitted from DoD to VA when he retired from military service. Without military treatment records, Fred is unable to prove his health conditions are service-connected and has been denied benefits to which he is entitled. The PACT Act enabled VA to grant part of Fred’s claim that was previously denied, but he is still waiting on benefits for other health conditions he cannot prove are service-connected without the records VA lost.
After a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis destroyed the records of nearly 16 million Army and Air Force veterans, VA established a regulatory process for those affected that allowed veterans whose records were lost to use the next closest medical record or a buddy statement to meet the burden of proof required for VA health care and benefits. The Fred Hamilton Veterans’ Lost Records Act would expand that process to all veterans whose records were lost by VA or DoD.
Veterans Service Organizations and stakeholders in Montana and across the country support Tester’s legislative effort to ensure veterans whose medical records were lost by the government receive their earned benefits, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the VFW Department of Montana, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), and The American Legion.
“There are too many Veterans out there that have no records due to circumstances out of their control. To deny them benefits is unjust,” said Fred Hamilton, Montana Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) State Chief of Staff and namesake of the bill. “This bill would provide us the opportunity to receive the benefits promised and earned. I would like to personally thank Senator Tester for tackling this issue and continuing to fight for our Veterans. I would also like to thank Montana VFW State Adjutant/Quartermaster Tim Peters for all the help in this matter.”
“Far too many veterans have struggled to produce accurate medical records from decades ago service periods. This issue is compounded for some veterans because their records were lost while entrusted to Federal Agencies such as DoD or VA for accountability purposes. Presently, the switch to electronic health records minimizes the risk of loss or damage, but an issue involving proof of service connection for claimed conditions remains for some veterans,” said the VFW Associate Director of National Legislative Service Quandrea Patterson. “This legislation would authorize VA to justly determine eligibility through alternate sources finally giving the veterans the care and benefits they have rightfully earned. The VFW thanks Senator Tester for making sure these veterans are taken care of and urges swift passage of this bill.”
“When service members turn their medical records over to the federal government, they do so with the assurance that it will keep their records safe and secure. However, as tragedies such as the 1973 National Personnel Records Center fire in St. Louis demonstrated, that is not always the case—and it’s a situation that strips veterans of their ability to prove their disabilities are related to their military service,” said DAV National Commander Nancy Espinosa. “That’s why DAV supports S. 3452, the Fred Hamilton Veterans’ Lost Records Act of 2023, which would authorize VA to grant disability claims using previous medial disability exams, credible buddy statements, or a statement from impacted veterans whose records were lost or destroyed through no fault of their own. We very much appreciate and applaud Senator Tester’s leadership in introducing this important legislation as it will help our nation’s heroes obtain the benefits they’ve earned.”