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Information Paper

Military Medical Record Keeping During and After the Gulf War

  • Following the return of American military men and women deployed to Southwest Asia during Operations Desert Shield/Desert Storm, illnesses were reported that may have been related to service in the Gulf War. Military medical records from this deployment have not provided substantial support in the search for causes of, and contributing factors to, these illnesses among Gulf War veterans.
  • Military medical recordkeeping policies at the time of the Gulf War tended to be service-specific and published by the respective military Surgeons General. During the war, the Army and the Air Force deployed an abstracted record at the time of mobilization instead of the individual health record. Navy and Marine Corps personnel deployed with full individual health records. The Department of Defense issued supplemental guidance on the documentation of immunizations that were investigational or required some measure of operational security.
  • Post-Gulf War medical recordkeeping policy continues to be made by each military service for routine activities in their medical treatment facilities. The establishment of an abstracted record for deployments is now standard policy for Army and Air Force personnel. Navy and Marine Corps personnel continue to deploy with full individual health records.
  • To better understand what happened with medical recordkeeping and to provide some additional insight on what can be done to improve it, the Office of the Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses prepared a paper that examines military medical recordkeeping policies and practices during and after the Gulf War, as well as initiatives for the future. The paper discusses the major recordkeeping policies in place at the time of the war, the changes and additions to these policies since that time, and the designs for the future.
  • The Department of Defense(Health Affairs) and the Joint Staff are focusing on force health protection and the documentation of medical surveillance activities in support of continuing operational deployments in the Balkans and Southwest Asia. The services now use standardized pre- and post-deployment health assessments and they are moving towards automated immunization tracking systems. They are also engaged in efforts to develop uniform records management and disposition policies during deployments.
  • Cooperation has increased among the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the National Archives and Records Administration on issues involving the transfer and storage of medical records. As part of an initiative to identify and facilitate veterans’ access to their Gulf War inpatient records, staff from the special assistant’s office searched through records at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, the permanent storage site for all records of hospitalizations in military medical facilities. The team located approximately 28,000 inpatient records of deployed Gulf War servicemembers and entered the information into a database. Veterans can call toll-free at(800) 497-6261 for a database search and assistance in obtaining copies of their records.
  • The groundwork is being laid for the development and implementation of an electronic medical information carrier, a computer-based patient record system, and a theater medical information program. These are viewed by the Department of Defense as technological solutions to both the medical recordkeeping deficiencies associated with the Gulf War and the presidential mandate to create a new force health protection program with a comprehensive, life-long medical record for each military servicemember.
  • More detailed information on medical records and other research projects of the Office of the Special Assistant can be accessed on the Internet at GulfLINK.