VA Records Management Center
The VA Records Management Center (RMC) is a Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) facility located in St. Louis, MO. Its roots are with the Records Processing Center (RPC), established in 1966 as a storage facility for inactive VA claim folders. In 1992, the Service Medical Records Center (SMRC) was established to receive service treatment records (STRs) directly from the military service branches upon a service member’s discharge from active duty service. Army was the first service branch to retire medical records to the SMRC in October 1992, with the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force following in 1994, and the Coast Guard in 1998. In October 1995, the RPC and SMRC merged to become the RMC.
Over time, the RMC’s holdings grew to include more than seven million paper records, roughly half of which are inactive claim folders relocated from VBA Regional Offices (ROs), the other half consisting of “stand-alone” (i.e. not within a VA claim folder) STRs. Between 1966-2012, the RMC matured as VBA’s primary resource for managing paper records.
The VA Liaison Office (VALO) was established in 1999 to liaison with the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) for personnel and medical records, and service information from military records in NPRC’s custody.
In 2012, VBA made significant strides toward a long-held goal of converting its compensation claim processing to a paperless environment. By mid-2013, all 56 VBA ROs and the Appeals Management Center migrated to working within the electronic Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) to establish, develop, adjudicate, promulgate and authorize awards for compensation claims. The advent of an electronic folder (“eFolder”) within VBMS eliminated the need for producing paper and establishing physical claim folders, which had been VA’s business practice for the better part of a century.
Further, Department of Defense (DoD) announced they would scan their own STRs into a system of record beginning in January 2014, eliminating the need to provide VA a paper copy. As VBA transformed into a paperless environment, the RMC began its transformation into a centralized resource center for VBA. Providing specialized services in a digital environment with direct services to Veterans, their families and Survivors, as well as continuing to provide value to internal VA partners in support of VBA’s claims processing goals.
In October 2012, an employee recommended the RMC assume the nation’s VBA workload for Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Privacy Act. The proposal was approved by the Under Secretary for Benefits in 2013. A team from VBA’s Office of Field Operations worked with the RMC to develop the concept for centralizing compensation-related FOIA and Privacy Act requests. A pilot was conducted with five stations from March to June 2014, and the nation’s workload was fully transitioned to the RMC by March 2015. For the first time, VBA is completing FOIA and Privacy Act requests in an electric environment.
All requested records are downloaded from VBMS and merged into a PDF file, reviewed, redacted or withheld as appropriate in accordance with law, and the finished product is burned to a CD and mailed to the Veteran for use on a personal computer. The RMC receives between 125,000-150,000 requests annually. To help support this workload, the RMC successfully transitioned staff from the previous, paper-based missions such as processing incoming medical records from the service branches, which ceased as planned in December 2013. Removing the important but perceived ancillary mission of FOIA and Privacy Act from ROs’ jurisdiction has allowed VBA to redirect RO resources to supporting its core mission of adjudicating and delivering benefits to Veterans, their families and Survivors.
A third mission of the RMC in the digital environment is to serve as liaison for National Guard and Reserve component medical records. Developing for and obtaining these records has long been a challenge within VA, as there are more than 4,400 reserve units and Adjutant General’s offices nationwide. Without a standardized directory or readily available points of contact issued by the service branches, it often proved difficult for a Veteran Service Representative to reach the unit and obtain a response sufficient to move the claim forward.
Under the ‘Single Point of Entry’ model, RO users submit requests for actively service Guard or Reserve members to the RMC. The RMC screens the requests to confirm accuracy, then routes the requests to the appropriate service branch’s central cell, or Single Point of Entry. The central cell is responsible for tracking down the records and/or issuing a document to VA certifying that all records have been made available. In turn, RMC staff pulls the records over from DoD’s electronic system of record into VBMS, and provides a final response to the RO.