It’s no surprise to anyone that COVID-19 has affected every aspect of life since it was first discovered in the United States last January. However, one of the saddest segments of our society to be affected are our military veterans and their families.
Montgomery County Veteran’s Service Officer (VSO) Susan Campbell reports that COVID-19 has led to many services being unavailable or slowed due to office closures and scaled back staff.
One of the worst affects the virus has had on veterans and their families is the increased wait time to receive needed paperwork from the National Personnel Records Center. While the center has closed their offices to the public they have kept a skeleton crew working to address emergency issues. Emergency requests also include burials, medical emergencies and homeless veterans seeking shelter.
One of the most requested forms is the DD-214, or a request for discharge papers. Veterans receive a copy of their discharge papers on what many probably consider one of the happiest days of their lives; when they are discharged from service. However, many lose their papers, or they can’t be easily found when needed.
A time when they are most needed is when a veteran or their family is applying for assistance from Veterans Services. Campbell shared that one of the most heartbreaking moments is when a veteran’s family is trying to get obtain a copy of their discharge papers after their death. Discharge papers are needed before a veteran can be buried with honors, or buried in a state or federal veterans cemetery.
She explained that pre-COVID a request for discharge papers normally took around six days. Unfortunately, it now takes an average of 11 days to have a request processed. Some families are forced to bury veterans without military honors while footing the bill themselves. Some requests have taken even longer.
The Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs are asking veterans and their families to start looking for necessary documents now. Once found they should be placed in a safe location such as a safety deposit box, a county clerk, or your local VSO.
This prevents families from having to make difficult decisions like the ones mentioned above. The records center reports that they have processed more than 90,000 requests for records since March 2020 with 38,000 requests involving veteran burials.
Congress has been made aware of the problem and in November 233 Congressional members, which included all four Arkansas Representatives, signed a letter addressed to Scott Levins, director of the National Personnel Records Center. The letter encouraged Levins to implement new policies and procedures to process requests for records faster.
For more information, or to request official paperwork contact Susan Campbell by phone at (870) 867-3033.
Prompt paperwork a thing of the past for veterans