Senate bill would offer veterans with lost medical records a way to access disability benefits
Legislation from the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman would provide veterans with other documentation methods for receiving benefits when their medical records are misplaced between the VA and Defense Department.
Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Mont., wants to ensure that veterans have a new way to access disability benefits when their medical records have been lost transitioning between the Defense Department and the Veterans Affairs Department.
Tester introduced the Fred Hamilton Veterans’ Lost Records Act last month — named for the Montana Veterans of Foreign Wars state chief of staff — as a way for veterans to provide alternative evidence when their service medical records are incomplete due to damage or loss by the federal government.
“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 in a statement Wednesday. “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.”
An Air Force veteran, Hamilton was exposed to toxins during his career in Vietnam and other deployments and his military treatment records were lost upon his retirement, Tester’s office said.
Thanks to provisions in the 2022 Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act, VA benefits eligibility applies for veterans with toxic exposures dating as far back as the Vietnam era, but still does not offer full coverage to veterans like Hamilton without access to their medical records.
The senator’s office cited a 1973 fire at St. Louis’ National Personnel Records Center that destroyed 16 million Army and Air Force veteran records and required the VA to accept the next closest medical record or a buddy statement for the affected servicemembers to receive benefits.
Tester’s bill would allow all veterans whose medical records were damaged or lost by the federal government to submit documentation like a medical disability examination occurring soon after a veteran’s discharge, an assertion from a veteran regarding the circumstances of a disability claim incurred during military service, a credible buddy statement or other sources of evidence to help determine benefit eligibility.
“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 Hamilton, in a statement. “This bill would provide us the opportunity to receive the benefits promised and earned.”
The bill has been referred to the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.