It is considered to be relatively complete in its roster of veteran deaths.
Beebe and Simons (1) showed that up to 98% of WWII veterans whose deaths in 1962 were independently ascertained were known to VA. A more recent study by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Medical Follow-up Agency (2) indicated that 88% of Vietnam era veteran deaths that occurred in 1980 were recorded on the VA BIRLS files. The ascertainment rate was somewhat higher (93.4%) for those who served two or more years on active duty.
It has a built-in linkage, through the VA claims folder, to the veteran 's death certificate.
The BIRLS file, as its name suggests, is a records locator system. The location of a veteran's claim folder is indicated in the BIRLS, and the claim folder holds some kind of notification of death, usually a death certificate.
The BIRLS file contains data that can facilitate linkage to a veteran 's military records. It contains all or some of the following information: name, Social Security number (SSN), military service number, date of birth, dates of military service, and branch of service.
We have used BIRLS for many of our mortality follow-up studies of Vietnam veterans:
Marine Corps Vietnam Veterans Mortality Study
Women Vietnam Veterans Mortality Study (3)
Army Chemical Corps Vietnam Veterans Mortality Study (4).
We have also used BIRLS to develop a roster of Vietnam era veteran deaths (5-7). The Vietnam Veterans Mortality Study published in 1988 (5) is entirely based on BIRLS information, which was used to select 90,000 potential study subjects. Over 85% of the death certificates for these veterans were obtained from VA claims folders. A state normally charges a fee of $2-$10 per death certificate. It would have cost VA approximately $300,000 to purchase these death certificates, had they not been in VA claim folders.
We are concerned with the potential impact of Public Law 97-35, which became effective on October 1, 1981, on the reporting of veterans ' deaths to VA. The new eligibility requirement of the law may have caused underreporting of veterans' deaths to VA.
In a preliminary attempt to assess the impact of the law, we have compared the total numbers of each of the three types of death benefits awarded for the three fiscal years (FY's) prior to the eligibility changes