VA digitizing Vietnam combat data to aid mental health claims

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The Department of Veterans Affairs is planning to digitize its Vietnam-era combat records in a bid to speed the verification of claims over mental health issues for aging vets.

The agency issued a “request for information” for companies interested in converting the archival text files into Excel-type spreadsheets. Data filtering will then be used to quickly verify potentially traumatic events claimed by ex-military personnel, according to a notice from the department.

Claims for post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues stemming from events during the Vietnam War represent a significant workload for the agency. Verification of claims through the current text-based system is difficult and slow, according to the VA.

“While the VA has relaxed its documentation requirements for post-traumatic stress disorder, other mental health claims still require verification that the stressful event likely took place,” according to the document published January 30. “Verifying these stressors has traditionally been a long, drawn-out process requiring inquiries to the Joint Service Records Research Center, which can take up to 60 days.”

The plan is to speed the process to match the schedule used for veterans in more recent conflicts. Events in Iraq and Afghanistan are automatically logged into the Official Military Activities Report, a database dashboard that documents hundreds of thousands of combat events in the two countries. OMAR is used by VA staff to filter events and verify non-PTSD mental health claims “within minutes.”

At least 12 separate record groups for Vietnam, dating from the early 1960s, need to be digitized. Records include Viet Cong-initiated attacks, friendly fire incidents, hostile fire against U.S. Navy ships, army base attacks and those deemed to be terrorist incidents.

Companies seeking to bid must complete the full task within one month, according to the notice.

The VA website link shows the total number of U.S. personnel who saw active service from 1964 to 1973 in Southeast Asia topped 3.4 million. Battle deaths were 47,424, with 153,303 wounded.

The VA didn’t respond to an email request for details of how many file entries need to be digitized.

Bloomberg News