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> DOD will preserve veterans' personnel files
> By Lisa Burgess, Stars and Stripes
> Pacific edition, Wednesday, July 14, 2004
> ARLINGTON, Va. - U.S. government officials have decided to preserve the
> personnel files of every military member since 1885, and to allow public
> access to such records 62 years after official discharge or separation.
> An agreement designating these files as "permanent records" was signed
> Thursday by Archivist of the United States John Carlin and David Chu,
> undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
> The National Archives and Records Administration will maintain the
> "forever," according to Greg Pomicter, assistant for operations in the
> NARA's Office of Regional Records Services.
> Protecting personnel files is crucial because they contain the legal
> documents veterans and their families need in order to claim
> that may have accrued from military service, Pomicter said in a Monday
> telephone interview from NARA's Suitland, Md., headquarters.
> Before the agreement was signed, the U.S. government would release only
> basic information, such as the dates of service. Only the member
> alive, or next-of-kin, if the member was dead, had access to the entire
> file, Pomicter said.
> Under the new policy, the public will have access to records 62 years
> after a servicemember's official discharge or separation - "a wealth of
> information" that will appeal to a variety of individuals, Pomicter
> After a six-month survey of records requests, archivists found that the
> nature of requests moved from administrative to historical between 56
> and 62 years after the servicemember's separation, and went with the
> number to be safe.
> People searching for genealogical data will find that the records "give
> you a tremendous amount of family history," Pomicter said.
> Personnel files contain medical information, performance reports and
> disciplinary actions, as well as birth, marriage and death records, and
> adoption records and visas for family history purposes.
> Academics and other researchers, meanwhile, will be able to use the
> records to reconstruct all sorts of information, such as the demographic
> composition of a specific military unit and how it has changed over
> Pomicter said.
> But if a servicemember is still alive after 62 years, the Privacy Act of
> 1974 allows NAR officials to "redact," or black out, certain
> such as Social Security numbers, Pomicter said.
> "If we have any indication that person is alive, we'll be very careful
> what's released ... to ensure that there's no unwarranted invasion of a
> person's privacy," Pomicter said.
> It will take at least a decade for government archivists to transfer all
> 56 million eligible records to the public domain, however.
> That's because before 1960, DOD did not necessarily file its personnel
> records by date of discharge, requiring archivists to sort through the
> jackets one-by-one to discern whether they meet the 62-year age
> Pomicter said.
> The first major block of files - nearly 1 million personnel records for
> sailors and Marines that date back to World War I - will be released
> fall, Pomicter said.
> To learn how to search records maintained by the National Archives and
> Records Administration including records that have been archived
> electronically, go to: www.archives.gov.