Letter: Vets' health records destroyed

Veterans Chris Layton and Gerry Propst
August 3, 2011 2:05:55 PM PDT
Since local veterans brought to ABC11's attention the roadblocks they're facing because they have few medical records from the time they served our county, an investigation has now revealed what happened to those records.

In May, 82nd Airborne veteran Sgt. Gerry Propst said he was being denied military benefits for service-related injuries because he didn't have most of the medical records from his five years of Army service during Operation Desert Storm.

The Army now admits they ordered troops in the first Gulf War to destroy their critical wartime records.

Propst says for years he had been telling his story, but not many people believed him until recently when a letter from the Department of the Army surfaced.

The letter confirms what so many veterans that served in the first Gulf War have said.

"They were throwing our medical records and every non-essential piece of equipment in the burn pits, because there was no room to fly it home," Propst said.

Through a public record request, the Army sent ABC11 a copy of the original letter, which includes the admission.

Click here to read the letter

"Units were told to destroy their records since there was no space to ship the paper back to the states," stated Dr. Gary A. Trogdon Chief of the Public Inquiries Section of the U.S. Army Center of Military History.

The letter also states that the order to destroy records is in "direct contradiction to the existing Army regulations." And that officials later discovered that "nearly all records below the brigade level no longer existed."

Propst says among the missing records is documented proof of a serious back injury he suffered during a parachute assault in the Middle East.

A back injury that is now haunting him years later and has him fighting for compensation.

"I've been dealing with denials, I know I'm not alone," he said.

And he is not, veteran Chris Layton says he feels Propst's pain.

"I don't have any medical records or records to show anything," Layton said.

Layton, a former Fort Bragg paratrooper who also served in Desert Storm, says he hurt his back on a jump and there is no record of it.

"You're expected to do a job in the military and then you expect if something happens that you'll be looked after," he said.

ABC11 provided Senator Kay Hagan with the letter from the Army to get her reaction.

"My first reaction was certainly the military didn't destroy any records and so getting to the bottom of that has been interesting," she said. "I wanted to be sure what the protocol was to do such a thing and why."

In turn, Hagan wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta asking what the protocol is if records are lost or missing.

"I just want to be sure we get to the bottom of this so those veterans that have served our country and military, that we are certain that they not only can get the VA services, but the benefits they deserve," Hagan said. "I mean these people have fought for our country."

She is currently awaiting a response.

In the meantime, Propst and Layton say since ABC11's story first aired, they have both heard from the Veterans' Administration and had examinations to determine if their injuries are service related.

The examination was good news for Propst, who says the VA doctor gave his medical opinion that all his medical issues are service related.

He is now just waiting for the official VA decision in writing and what that will mean in terms of compensation for those injuries.

Meanwhile Layton, is also waiting to hear what the VA determined about his injuries.

There are also organizations out there to help veterans:

North Carolina Division of Veterans Affairs: http://www.doa.state.nc.us/vets/

Disabled American Veterans: http://www.dav.org/

Veterans Leadership Council of North Carolina-Cares: http://vlcnc-cares.org/

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