The Digital Revolution began in 1947 with the invention of the transistor, and evolved into the Information Age of today. This immense technology boom has finally initiated the transition from our completely paper based society into someday becoming totally digital. However, the advent of paperless records management systems was too late to prevent the disaster known among many Veterans as “the fire of 1973”. This post will briefly explain the fire’s history, outline exactly whom the event concerns and provide information to affected Veterans.
The two main facilities responsible for housing millions of Veteran records, the Records Management Center (RMC) and National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), are both located in Saint Louis, Missouri. In the early morning hours of July 12, 1973, authorities responded to fire alarms on the sixth floor within NPRC. The ensuing blaze lasted almost five whole days, and was so devastating investigators were unable to determine the exact cause. The fire destroyed approximately 18 million records, and the aftermath continues to wreak havoc within the lives of Veterans applying for disability benefits.
The most compelling evidence of the “in service injury/event” element necessary for service connection is oftentimes contained within service personnel and medical records. When such evidence is unavailable for any reason, the process becomes more challenging and may result in the unjust denial of benefits. While NPRC houses records from every service branch, the fire only affected Army and Air Force Veterans. The following identifies those affected:
- Army personnel discharged between November 1, 1912 and January 1, 1960
- Air Force personnel discharged between September 25, 1947 and January 1, 1964 (specifically names alphabetically after Hubbard, James E.)
Thankfully, this travesty has some good news; first, no one was injured or killed and second, many records identified above actually survived. In fact, authorities immediately began recovery efforts and salvaged approximately 6.5 million records. The following estimates how many records identified above are still available:
- 20% of Army records
- 25% of Air Force records
So, how do you know whether your records still exist? The only way is request them, if you learn the fire destroyed your records – you may request NPRC perform “reconstruction” from secondary sources by submitting two forms depending upon the type of record sought. The forms are:
If your records were involved in “the fire of 1973”, not all hope was destroyed with the records. Be sure to complete one or both of the above forms and send them to the VA for processing The VA is obligated to assist Veterans affected by this notorious fire and should not decide your case before obtaining the NPRC response to the forms listed above.