Ninety-year-old Susana Mallinson has been waiting over a year for her husband Frank’s military service records from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis.
She is among the roughly 500,000 military family members affected by the massive backlog of record requests at the NPRC, an agency of the National Archives.
Mallinson’s husband served in Japan in the U.S. Army during World War II as a radio engineer and died in 2000. She is barely making ends meet, surviving on just over $1,000 a month while waiting for her husband’s records to apply for spousal benefits with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). In the meantime, Mallinson is forced to live below the poverty line.
“It’s very stressful. At times I cannot sleep, thinking ‘why is it so hard? Something that belongs to me, something that is there,'” Mallinson said.
Mallinson has already been waiting a year. Once she gets the records, she then has to apply for spousal benefits, which could take another two years. The benefits would amount to nearly $1,700 a month — a life-changing difference for the 90-year-old widow.
“If she’s able to receive this additional money, it would help her with food. It would help her with our rent increase, will help her with being able to get transportation to and from her medical appointments–daily living expenses, just like the rest of us, it would really help her be able to survive,” said Swapna Yeluri, Mallinson’s attorney, from the AARP’s Legal Counsel for the Elderly.
This is a battle, Mallinson said, she has had to fight on her own.
MILITARY FAMILIES EXPRESS GROWING FRUSTRATION OVER PANDEMIC-INDUCED BACKLOG OF VETERAN RECORDS
“This has been very hard for me to get adjusted, in being by myself with not enough money and not enough, you know, people around me to console me,” Mallinson said. “I don’t have any family. So it’s very hard and especially to straighten out the papers that belong to me.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, staff at the National Archives and the NPRC has been greatly reduced with the agency prioritizing “the most urgent requests.” Yeluri believes this should include requests like Mallinson’s.
“We have a lot of clients that are in the same situation,” Yeluri said. “They are entitled to these benefits. They’ve worked for these benefits.”
The AARP’s Legal Counsel for the Elderly, along with other organizations experiencing delays, are planning to send a letter to the NPRC asking them to expand their emergency request criteria to include low-income seniors who are facing financial hardships.
The National Archives told Fox News that the VA should be able to help supply the records.
“Applicants for VA benefits should go directly to the Veterans Benefits Administration and if records from NPRC holdings are needed to adjudicate a claim, the VBA will acquire them from NPRC quickly; normally in three days or less,” the National Archives released in a statement.
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But Mallinson’s attorneys point out that’s only if the records are digitized, and Frank Mallinson’s are in paper form.
Mallinson said she’s not giving up. She wears her husband’s military dog tags and cross to help her maintain hope. Mallinson believes her husband would be proud.
“He will think that I’m very courageous and hopefully I can get it through my persistence,” Mallinson said.
Saturday, July 10 marks her 90th birthday. Mallinson’s wish this year is to see her husband’s military records arrive in the mail.