DoD Database Helps Locate Gulf War Hospital Records

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 records.

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 memberís medical care and accompany them throughout their military career. Upon a memberís separation or retirement, the individual health record is retired to the Department of Veteranís 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 hospitalís 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 facilityís 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 memberís 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 Rostkerís 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 Roskterís medical issues team. "If veterans didnít 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, Rostkerís staff built on the work accomplished by the Department of the Army. The Army created an electronic database which cross referenced the patientís 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 Assistantís 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. Rostkerís team added this list of individuals by name, social security number and hospital facility name to the Armyís 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 Assistantís 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.