Archive for the ‘Pennsylvania’ Category

Day 34: Memorialize veterans with records

So far: 24 states, 9,785 miles, 43 sessions, 770 people (see schedule)

Pittsburgh, Penn. — This Memorial Day weekend, honor those in your family who served in the military by getting copies of their service records. Make copies for relatives and hand them down to future generations. Documents provide tangible, authoritative and relatively accurate memorials for your own personal heroes.

Tip No. 44: To get an individual’s service records, go to the National Archives & Records Administration Web site. Next of kin (father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, unremarried surviving spouse) of deceased veterans can order up the information free online at this site. A similar online ordering form is available at The National Archives. If you aren’t next of kin or if the person is still alive, you can still get some information. You just have to fill out a written form instead of doing it online. Snag Standard Form 180 at The National Archives Web site, or fill out a formal FOIA request letter. They ask you to fill out as much information as you can, including full name, SSN, Date of birth, place of birth, service branch. But if you don’t know it all, that’s OK. They’ll give it their best shot to find the person. You will get a Report of Separation (DD Form 214), which verifies service and reason for separation.

You can get a summary of their policies at another Web site. I checked it out and found it is possible to get the following information about someone if you specifically ask for it (if you don’t ask they won’t give it out, the policy states): dates of service, rank, present and past assignments, decorations and awards, military schooling, photograph, and records of court-martial trials. For deceased veterans, they’ll give out place of birth, date and location of death, and place of burial.

Monday: I drive to Cincinnati in preparation of two sessions Tuesday, one in Cincinnati and one in Cleveland.

Day 33: Consider mediation before litigation

So far: 24 states, 9,445 miles, 43 sessions, 770 people (see schedule)

Wilkes-Barre, Penn. — Today at a session in with journalists from the Wilkes-Barre and Scranton area we had the chance to talk with an appeals officer for the state Office of Open Records.

Audrey Buglione, an appeals officer for the agency, provided some extremely useful information and tips for requesters.

Audrey Buglione, appeals officer for the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records

Tip No. 43: Consider trying mediation or dispute resolution to resolve sticky access battles. Sometimes it’s easier than going to court. Buglione said requesters and agencies have the option to seek mediation before going through a more involved appeal process and litigation. Sometimes agencies would rather mediate a dispute so it doesn’t become public and embarrassing. It’s a good way to let them save face and avoid expensive and timely court time.

One thing I’ve picked up going around the country is that these ombudsman-type offices in about half the states seem to have a pretty good impact on access to records, particularly in training government employees about the law. While the process isn’t perfect, I think it’s a net gain for FOI. An outstanding scholar from Texas Christian University, Daxton “Chip” Stewart, has done some good research on the subject. I look forward to more.

I’m impressed that a dozen people would show up for the session on a Saturday during Memorial Day weekend. Thanks to Andrew Seaman from the Wilkes-Barre student chapter and Daniel Axelrod from the Keystone State pro chapter for co-sponsoring the event.

Sunday-Monday: I take the rest of the holiday weekend to work my way to Cincinnati for a few sessions in Ohio on Tuesday.

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