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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
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 assistants 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
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.