ONTD Political

US Military has lost so many records that veterans are spending years proving they saw combat

9:06 pm - 11/12/2012
A strange thing happened when Christopher DeLara filed for disability benefits after his tour in Iraq: The U.S. Army said it had no records showing he had ever been overseas.

DeLara had searing memories of his combat experiences. A friend bled to death before his eyes. He saw an insurgent shoot his commander in the head. And, most hauntingly, he recalled firing at an Iraqi boy who had attacked his convoy.

The Army said it could find no field records documenting any of these incidents.

DeLara appealed, fighting for five years before a judge accepted the testimony of an officer in his unit.
By then he had divorced, was briefly homeless and had sought solace in drugs and alcohol.

DeLara's case is part of a much larger problem that has plagued the U.S. military since the 1990 Gulf War: a failure to create and maintain the types of field records that have documented American conflicts since the Revolutionary War.

A joint investigation by ProPublica and The Seattle Times has found that the recordkeeping breakdown was especially acute in the early years of the Iraq war, when insurgents deployed improvised bombs with devastating effects on U.S. soldiers. The military has also lost or destroyed records from Afghanistan, according to officials and previously undisclosed documents.

The loss of field records — after-action write-ups, intelligence reports and other day-to-day accounts from the war zones — has far-reaching implications. It has complicated efforts by soldiers like DeLara to claim benefits. And it makes it harder for military strategists to learn the lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan, two of the nation's most protracted wars.

Military officers and historians say field records provide the granular details that, when woven together, tell larger stories hidden from participants in the day-to-day confusion of combat.

The Army says it has taken steps to improve handling of records — including better training and more emphasis from top commanders. But officials familiar with the problem said the missing material may never be retrieved.

"I can't even start to describe the dimensions of the problem," said Conrad C. Crane, director of the U.S. Army's Military History Institute. "I fear we're never really going to know clearly what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan because we don't have the records."

The Army, with its dominant presence in both theaters, has the biggest deficiencies. But the U.S. Central Command in Iraq (Centcom), which had overall authority, also lost records, according to reports and other documents obtained by ProPublica under the Freedom of Information Act.

In Baghdad, Centcom and the Army disagreed about which was responsible for keeping records. There was confusion about whether classified field records could be transported back to the units' headquarters in the United States. As a result, some units were instructed to erase computer hard drives when they rotated home, destroying the records that had been stored on them.

Through 2008, dozens of Army units deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan either had no field records or lacked sufficient reports for a unit history,
according to Army summaries obtained by ProPublica. DeLara's outfit, the 1st Cavalry Division, was among the units lacking adequate records during his 2004 to 2005 deployment.

Recordkeeping was so poor in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2007 that "very few Operation ENDURING FREEDOM records were saved anywhere, either for historians' use, or for the services' documentary needs for unit heritage, or for the increasing challenge with documenting Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)," according to an Army report from 2009.

Entire brigades deployed from 2003 to 2008 could not produce any field records, documents from the U.S. Army Center of Military History show.

The Pentagon was put on notice as early as 2005 that Army units weren't turning in records for storage to a central computer system created after a similar recordkeeping debacle in the 1990-91 Gulf War.

In that war, a lack of field records forced the Army to spend years and millions of dollars to reconstruct the locations of troops who may have been exposed to toxic plumes that were among the suspected causes of Gulf War Syndrome.

At the outset of the Iraq war, military commanders tried to avoid repeating that mistake, ordering units to preserve all historical records.

But the Army botched the job. Despite new guidelines issued in 2008 to safeguard records, some units still purged them. The next summer, the Washington National Guard's 81st Brigade Combat Team in Iraq was ordered to erase hard drives before leaving them for replacement troops to use, said a Guard spokesman, Capt. Keith Kosik.

Historians had complained about lax recordkeeping for years with little result.

"We were just on our knees begging for the Army to do something about it," said Dr. Reina Pennington, a Professor at Norwich University in Vermont who chaired the Army's Historical Advisory Committee. "It's the kind of thing that everyone nods about and agrees it's a problem but doesn't do anything about."

source: Pbs Newhour & ProPublica
lil_insanity 13th-Nov-2012 02:31 am (UTC)
This is horrifying.
poetic_pixie_13 13th-Nov-2012 02:44 am (UTC)
This is disgusting. The way vets are treated is horrific. Send them on as many tours as you can, ignoring and lying about why they're not medically fit to go back, and then dump them back into civilian life without giving them the tools or care or time to transition properly. Leaving vets high and dry not caring about them and their families and their ability to get a job and healthcare and medication and housing. Instead giving them an endless, convoluted bureaucracy and no real way of making lives for themselves.

I can't. However I feel about the military as an institution and about the higher ups who send kids to die these vets deserve so much more than what they're getting.
chantalzola 13th-Nov-2012 04:13 am (UTC)
and to top all that off, how civilians treat them (that aren't family, etc.) when they get back.

This is all so awful =(
lokiyan 13th-Nov-2012 04:32 pm (UTC)
It's okay because they get one day a year of parades and lip service! /sarcasm
skellington1 13th-Nov-2012 08:35 pm (UTC)
I've always been baffled that the Veterans Benefits and Services ISN'T part of the massive defense budget. When we tally the cost of a war, we don't include the cost of supporting the people who come back from it. That's pretty criminal oversight, to my mind.
____jonas 13th-Nov-2012 03:13 am (UTC)
This might sound conspiracy theory-ish, but I wonder if this has been done to deal with the expected costs of care for returning veterans. Screw them around enough and hope that they'll just give up, or just outright deny that they're owed anything.
valarltd 13th-Nov-2012 04:20 am (UTC)
My thoughts exactly.

Also to hide the atrocities. I expect they are under orders to ensure that no more My Lais will make it onto the evening news to discomfit Mr & Mrs Middle America.
nicosian 13th-Nov-2012 04:49 am (UTC)
that was my thought. Accidental my ass. Maybe a few, but that much record loss? come on.

tiddlywinks103 13th-Nov-2012 03:14 am (UTC)
Embarrassing. Isn't this 60% of our national budget?
koken23 13th-Nov-2012 03:18 am (UTC)
No. Not even close. It's like...five percent of GDP and less than 20 percent of the budget - big, especially in comparison to foreign defence spending, but not as big as you think.
tiddlywinks103 13th-Nov-2012 03:29 am (UTC)
Oh, ok. It's still too much money to not be able to keep proper fucking files. funny how the incompetence is always to the detriment of soldiers, and never generals or private companies we pay for supplies.
koken23 13th-Nov-2012 03:52 am (UTC)
Oh, but of course. Being fucked over by the green weenie is what junior enlisted people are for.
sesmo 13th-Nov-2012 04:17 am (UTC)
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has estimated that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, together with the Bush tax cuts, will account for almost half of the projected $20 trillion debt in 2019.
koken23 13th-Nov-2012 05:52 am (UTC)
Saying it is half the debt is not the same thing as it being half the budget.
skellington1 13th-Nov-2012 08:31 pm (UTC)
I suspect they're thinking of discretionary spending (which gets talked about a lot, since it's where the choices are), in which case defense does account for over half.
skellington1 13th-Nov-2012 08:28 pm (UTC)
What exactly is 'this' in your question? It's tricky to talk about the numbers without clarity, because 'over all budget' and 'discretionary budget' are two different things. The you get into distinctions between over-all defense versus each branch, or specifically what each branch spends on record keeping, or special budgets passed for these particular wars...

Non-discretionary spending includes things like interest on our debt, and money for medicare, medicaid, and social security, where the budget is mandated by law and cannot be changed without a change in the law.

here's a kind of neat tool to look at discretionary spending.

The key here (and where you may have got the number) is that total 'defense' spending DOES account for over half of the US discretionary budget.

EDIT to add: As a heads up, the linked tool is from 2010. Our money allocation hasn't changed THAT much, but the numbers are of course not accurate for 2012 or 13 -- so consider it a ballpark.

Edited at 2012-11-13 08:32 pm (UTC)
tiddlywinks103 14th-Nov-2012 01:36 am (UTC)
I guess that's where I got it from. It's still just too much money, when we have children in this country going to bed hungry. It's embarrassing they can't even keep simple records.
mollywobbles867 13th-Nov-2012 03:22 am (UTC)
Okay, I don't understand how the military can be so careless and unorganized. My bff's mom was a Marine and is the most organized person I've ever met in my entire life.

Tbh, I hate just about everything about the military and that includes the shitty way veterans are treated.
sesmo 13th-Nov-2012 04:18 am (UTC)
This is too systematic an idiocy to be the result of accidents. I'm no conspiracy theorist, but unpopular wars with shitty record keeping under Republican presidents? Could it be, that we don't want the historical record for how badly we screwed up?
ladygoddess 13th-Nov-2012 03:29 am (UTC)
I'm not surprised. My grandpa was in the army and for years they refused to acknowledge him because of a fire burning down a record house in Kentucky. Only when he was on his deathbed and probably too far gone to know, did the army show up with the plaque and the soldier visit for him. He at least got his military salute at his funeral and the folded flag -- but I assume they thought it was cheaper to acknowledge him then than while he had years to go.
tabaqui 13th-Nov-2012 12:25 pm (UTC)
As much as i'm loathe to admit it - i hate conspiracy theories - this sounds suspiciously like a conspiracy. They can deny anything so long as there are no records.

Makes me ill.
missjersey 13th-Nov-2012 04:16 pm (UTC)
SMH. I'm part of a bureau that is doing a documentary on student veterans and this is awful. Some of them are having a lot of difficulty getting benefits.
ahria 13th-Nov-2012 07:39 pm (UTC)
The Army "lost" 5 years of records for my brother. Basically saying he wasn't active duty for 5 years when he was. It affected his promotion rate, pay, etc. And then when he finally did promote, it took over a year for it to go through in finance- he sure did have to do the work of his new rank while not getting paid for it, though. (Eventually, it went through and he got his back pay difference. But they never "found" those 5 years of records.)

(The solider in this story has it *way* worse then my brother though, wasn't trying to compare the two)
skellington1 13th-Nov-2012 08:17 pm (UTC)
I know it's not really a trigger type reaction (and I don't want to make light of situations where it's really needed), but the immediate rage was so much I thought we needed the tag trigger warning: MASSIVE INCOMPETENCE.
kitanabychoice 14th-Nov-2012 12:18 am (UTC)
This is just... unbelievable.
anjak_j 20th-Nov-2012 04:31 pm (UTC)
Disgusting. Those who fight for their country already go through so much without adding this kind of stress and bullshit on top of that when they come home.

Like many others who've commented, I would not be surprised to learn that the loss of these records wasn't accidental.
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