Fire consumed 16 million to 18 million official military personnel files long before computers kept such records.
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While the Veterans Administration struggles to repair the damage caused by shoddy — and in some cases fraudulent — handling of health care for American service members, benefits for millions who served their country in four wars were wiped out in a fire more than 40 years ago, leaving many battling to this day to collect their due.

The blaze that ripped through the National Personnel Records Center in a St. Louis suburb shortly after midnight on July 12, 1973, consumed 16 million to 18 million official military personnel files long before computers kept such records safe from harm. Few could have predicted the harm it would visit on the veterans who were denied VA benefits — some to this day — because they could not reconstruct their military service files.

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