The following announcement was written by Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson of the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee:
Reclaim the Records has previously filed suit in different state jurisdictions—their new Freedom of Information Act litigation is against a federal agency– the US Department of Veterans Affairs. The law suit, filed on September 17, 2018, asks the US Department of Veterans Affairs to provide a copy of the Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem (BIRLS) Death File. A letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs dated September 13, 2018 states they “remanded the request to their FOIA Officer for further consideration, appropriate processing and issuance of a subsequent IAD”. [IAD means Initial Agency Decision] The case is still pending.
This database contains basic information on about fourteen million deceased American veterans who served in the US military and then later received benefits from the VA, such as healthcare or the GI Bill, between approximately 1850-2017. Each record includes the veteran’s dates of birth and death, dates of enlistment and release, and branch of service. Some years have a little more information available than others, including the veteran’s basic cause of death (i.e. natural or combat-related), gender, and possibly other fields.
Everyone listed in the database is deceased. The information is currently not available on any free website, not even through the main US government open data portal, data.gov. It’s not searchable, and certainly not downloadable. However, Ancestry and its affiliate Fold3.com has the information. While Ancestry is a subscription site, many public libraries offer free access to the site to those with their library cards. The Department of Veterans Affairs declined the Reclaim the Records request to obtain the BIRLS database in April for privacy reasons. The Department further corresponded with Reclaim the Records saying they would refer the request for further study in a different department. According to the Reclaim the Records newsletter, the Department of Veterans Affairs said they erroneously released the database to Ancestry. They also claimed that this BIRLS database release amounted to “a data breach of Veteran’s personal information”.
To read the Reclaim the Records newsletter announcing this litigation see: https://mailchi.mp/reclaimtherecords/bfvk8vew84-1892225?e=1fcb9139f0.
To view the request see: https://www.reclaimtherecords.org/records-request/20/.
To access past IAJGS Records Access Alert postings about Reclaim the Records go to the archives located at: : http://lists.iajgs.org/mailman/private/records-access-alerts/. You must be registered to access the archives. To register for the
IAJGS Public Records Access Alert go to: http://lists.iajgs.org/mailman/listinfo/records-access-alerts. You will receive an email response that you have to reply to or the subscription will not be finalized. It is required to include your organization affiliation (genealogy organization, etc.)