My father served in Vietnam in the earliest days of the war. Only a few years out of West Point, my dad advised the South Vietnamese Army on the latest military tactics to use against the Communist forces from the North. One of my father’s primary missions was supporting the defoliation efforts used by the South Vietnamese to prevent the enemy from hiding beneath the country’s dense jungle canopies. Dad flew on countless missions spreading Agent Orange over battlefields all across Vietnam.
In the late 90’s my father was diagnosed with the early signs of Parkinson’s disease. Studies had shown that men and women who had served in Vietnam - in any capacity - were 2.6 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than whose people who had served in the military at the same time, but were not deployed to Vietnam. Medical experts concluded this statistical anomaly was a direct result of exposure to defoliant agents like Agent Orange and other dioxins.
Given the significant statistical evidence and considerable support from many members of the Parkinson’s medical community, my mother and I set out to petition the Department of Veterans Affairs to declare that my father’s Parkinson’s was a service related disability. This would mean that the DoD would recognize my father’s illness as potentially being the result of his service to his country.
Mom and I spent months researching and compiling our application and we ultimately produced a document that exceeded 600 pages. And yet, after all our work, we still didn’t feel like our application was ready for submittal. It just seemed to be too impersonal, too full of graphs and numbers and medical studies and not enough about Dad. Then one day my mom was going through a box full of folders in the bottom of a closet in my dad’s office and she came across an old carbon copy of a commendation the Government of South Vietnam had given my father. The commendation – over 40 years old and perfectly preserved - specifically cited my dad for his ‘exceptional leadership in supporting defoliation missions throughout his tour’.
We submitted the application with a copy of the commendation as the opening image on the very first page. Then we waited. And waited. Finally, after almost two years of deliberation, my father was granted compensation for a service related disability based on the application my mother and I submitted. Thankfully, Dad lived long enough to see his application approved.
In the early 1990’s, many service men and women returning from duty in the Persian Gulf developed a mysterious illness that would later become known as ‘Gulf War Syndrome’. Military medical investigators and Federal agencies were at a loss to understand what was causing this multi-symptom disorder that was affecting nearly 250,000 soldiers.
It was eventually suggested that it might be a good idea to research the combat records of the soldiers who were suffering from these symptoms and determine if there might be some commonalities that they all shared that could possibly explain what was making them all so sick.
Investigators quickly spread out across the country, intent on finding the combat records for Gulf War Syndrome patients and hoping the records might provide them with their first real break in the investigation. But to the shock of the medical investigators, it quickly became clear that very few combat records were found for any of their patients. Shockingly, in many cases, no records existed at all.
Understandably, the Department of Defense was outraged to discover their soldiers’ most important records were being so badly mismanaged and it wasn’t long before the DoD had completely revised their records management policies and overhauled many of their long-standing records management procedures. One of the many results of these changes was the creation of a Department of Defense-wide standard for records management applications, the DoD 5015.2 Electronic Records Management Software Applications Design Criteria Standard.
Nearly fifteen years later, Chris DeLara was serving his country as a soldier in Iraq. While his official title was Administrative Specialist and he was not serving in a formal combat role, DeLara nonetheless soon saw himself on the frontlines of the war manning a machine gun as a roof gunner on convoys. Among the horrors he endured was seeing a friend bleed to death and his commander shot in the head.
Soon after he returned from Iraq, DeLara’s life spiraled downward and he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Shockingly, when DeLara applied for disability benefits he was told by the VA that there were ‘no records, none whatsoever’ indicating he had ever served in combat and his application for benefits was denied. (You can read more about Chris DaLara’s saga here: http://bit.ly/YZEHOu)
Sadly, DeLara’s story is being repeated thousands of times a year for far too many of the men and women who have served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite the sweeping changes to records management practices brought on as a result of the first Gulf War, the volume of lost or mismanaged records from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan far exceeds those lost during Operation Desert Storm.
How could this have happened? How can I find my father’s service records from over forty years ago with such ease, but despite decades of technological advancement bordering on magic, thousands of soldiers like Chris DeLara are unable to provide even one record proving they have served in combat?
An industry colleague recently asked me if I would be willing to participate in a panel discussion on the continued use of the DoD 5015.2 Standard. She suggested the discussion would be focused around what changes needed to be made to the Standard going forward. I was honestly a little taken aback because I knew this colleague had read my thoughts on the DoD 5015.2 Standard in my previous blog post and I had assumed she understood my feelings about it.
Obviously, I need to be more clear on this. The DoD 5015.2 model of records management is a staggering failure and no modification to it will change that. It has not improved records management for the DoD, the Federal government, private industry or any other organization that has ever implemented it. In fact, it has made the management of electronic records far more complicated and exponentially more expensive than it should have ever been. And I defy anyone to prove otherwise.
But let me also clarify something else. This is not the fault of the good people at the Department of Defense. They are not records management experts. Their job is to defend the country and they do a wonderful job at it. But for the Records Management industry to rely on the DoD to set records management standards is simply irresponsible.
And neither is this the fault of application vendors who created 5015.2 certified solutions. They were simply doing their jobs. The market told them ‘We need DoD 5015.2 certified records management solutions.’ And like good business men and women, they created solutions to meet market demand. And, for what it’s worth, many of those solutions were wonderful feats of engineering given the convoluted requirements they were forced to meet.
But the fact remains: the Standard has not succeeded in the purpose for which it was created. And it is folly to think that a few modifications to it will change that. The only real solution is to scrap the program entirely.
As I said in my previous post, there needs to be a realistic, useful records management services standard that is applicable to state-of-the-industry technology. And I don’t like complaining about something without offering a solution. So, in my next post – the last in this series, I promise – I’ll tell you what that standard should look like. It may just surprise you. #DoD5015.2Standard #ElectronicRecordsManagementSoftwareApplications #ElectronicRecordsManagement