WASHINGTON, August 4, 1998 (GulfLINK) - The Office
of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses announced today that it
is offering assistance to those Gulf War veterans who have had difficulty
in obtaining copies of their inpatient hospital records from the Gulf
War. Collaborating with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National
Personnel Record Center and the Department of the Army, the office is
creating a consolidated database to retrieve hospital records for all
patients treated in Army, Navy and Air Force Gulf War hospitals. Veterans
who are interested in securing information from these records are encouraged
to contact the office to request a data search.
"Our goal is to inventory any known surviving hospital record from
the Gulf War and create a database with names of all U.S. military and
coalition forces and civilians," said Dr. Bernard Rostker, the special
assistant for Gulf War illnesses.
In the military, the disposition and storage of records is governed by
each service, DoD regulations and statute. Medical records fall into two
categories: individual health records and inpatient hospital treatment
Individual health records include clinic visits, diagnostic tests, immunizations,
dental care, and, in some cases, discharge summaries of inpatient care.
These records represent a history of a service members medical care
and accompany them throughout their military career. Upon a members
separation or retirement, the individual health record is retired to the
Department of Veterans Affairs Record Management Center in St. Louis,
Mo., Rostker said.
Inpatient hospital treatment records are created each time a service
member is admitted to a military medical treatment facility for care.
These records document all treatment and procedures performed while the
member is hospitalized. If the patient is evacuated to another facility,
a copy of the treatment record accompanies the patient and the original
record is retained with the hospitals files. Defense Department
guidelines call for hospital in-patient treatment records to be retired
within a span of four to 10 years, depending upon the facilitys
record disposition policy to the National Personnel Records Center where
they are archived under the name of the hospital transferring the records.
War often skews even the best policy, explained Rostker. In a fast-paced,
chaotic battle environment a service members individual health record
may be maintained by his unit and never reach the hospital administering
care or the individual may receive treatment in a number of facilities.
The in-theater hospitals did not have transcriptionists, so discharge
summaries were not done in most cases. Also, the in-theater hospital generally
did not have copy machines, so when a patient was transferred to a hospital,
the original record was sent with the patient.
After the war, veterans seeking their medical records had to know the
name of the facility that treated them during the war in order to obtain
the record from the hospital or the National Personnel Records Center.
The need for a database grew out of the concerns veterans expressed to
Rostkers team about locating their records. Many veterans thought
that their records were lost or destroyed.
"The records were never lost or destroyed," explained Mike
Boyle, an investigator on Roskters medical issues team. "If
veterans didnt know the name of the hospital that treated them,
there was no way of finding their records."
To come up with a solution for veterans, Rostkers staff built on
the work accomplished by the Department of the Army. The Army created
an electronic database which cross referenced the patients name
and social security number with the name of the admitting hospital and
dates of care for 10,500 in-patient treatment records before sending the
records to the records center in St. Louis. This accounted for approximately
70 percent of the Army Gulf War inpatient records.
The Special Assistants staff members flew to the records center
in St. Louis to examine more than 2,000 boxes identified as Air Force
and Navy hospital records from the Gulf War. The hands-on effort, augmented
by Army reservists, resulted in the identification of 7,000 additional
Air Force and Navy in-patient hospital records. Rostkers team added
this list of individuals by name, social security number and hospital
facility name to the Armys electronic database.
"We literally examined and reviewed every record," said Boyle,
explaining how the team provided the bridge to unlock the information.
Rostker and his staff hope that this effort will assist veterans who
require records to establish a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs
due to service-related illness, as well as those who wish to keep track
of their medical conditions.
To obtain copies of in-patient hospital records from hospitals deployed
to the Gulf, the veteran should call the Special Assistants office
at 1-800-497-6261 to request a database search. The office will complete
a request form and forward it to the veteran for signature and mailing
to the record center.
Individual health records of former service members are archived in two
locations, Boyle said. The VA maintains records for Army veterans discharged
after 1992; and Air Force, Marine and Navy veterans discharged after 1994.
To obtain copies, veterans may call the VA at 1-800-827-1000. For all
other records, veterans should write to the National Personnel Records
Center, 9700 Page Ave., St. Louis, Mo. 63132.
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