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Veterans call for improved military records.

Some U.S. veterans and officials have charged the military with not keeping good medical records on deployed troops, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report. Accurate files that track the vaccines and treatments soldiers receive and where or when they may have been exposed to biological agents in the field are critical to veterans: The information is vital in helping to diagnose, treat, and identify the cause of illnesses they may develop years later, and it also helps qualify them for veteran's benefits.

The U.S. Congress passed a law in 1997 requiring the Pentagon to better monitor the health of wartime troops, but lawmakers did not set a deadline for implementing the new measures. The law mandates medical exams of troops before and after deployment, immunizations, and blood tests. Records of these medical tests are then supposed to be entered into a centralized data bank that can be easily accessed, the Wall Street Journal said. The law also requires the creation of a system to track individual service members as they move through a theater of operations, so the military can later reconstruct what agents soldiers may have been exposed to.

But the General Accounting Office (GAO), the investigatory branch of Congress, estimated that the tracking system will not be fully implemented until 2007 or later. The GAO also found problems with the data the military has already gathered. In April 2003, the GAO said it could not obtain the medical records for 332 of 504 early deploying Army reservists. In a September report, the GAO found similar gaps in the records of 1,100 Army and Air Force veterans of Kosovo or Afghanistan at four U.S. military bases. According to the Wall Street Journal, the GAO also discovered widespread problems with dated blood samples, missing medical records, and disparities between the data kept at military bases and information in the Pentagon's central database.

The Pentagon has acknowledged past problems with tracking troops' medical history, but Pentagon officials said their recordkeeping in the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq has greatly improved. To better track soldiers' health care, the Wall Street Journal said, the military has begun installing computer terminals in areas where vaccinations and health screenings occur and is experimenting with the use of personal digital assistants in the battlefield so that data about soldiers' treatment information can easily be transmitted to the Pentagon.
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Title Annotation:Up front: news, trends & analysis
Author:Swartz, Nikki
Publication:Information Management Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2004
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