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Tonko Introduces Constituent-Inspired Military Records Bill

Local Historian Contacted Congressman to Clear Soldier’s Name

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Washington, June 29, 2018 | comments
"Military records testify to the sacrifice and valor of each person who has served the U.S. armed forces," said Tonko. "Incorrect or incomplete military records can leave a service member, their family or their descendants without vital documentation or with an inaccurate or incomplete story of their loved one’s service. I am grateful to Roberta Reno for bringing to my attention this critical gap in how we correct and maintain our military records. Thanks to her tenacity and attention to historical detail, I am delighted to sponsor this legislation to help ensure critical errors and injustices like this one can begin to be corrected.”
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WASHINGTON – Just before heading home for the Independence Day recess yesterday, Congressman Paul Tonko introduced the Historical Record Exemption Act of 2018 inspired by a constituent's request to make it easier to correct military records in the event that a serious error or injustice is discovered.

"Military records testify to the sacrifice and valor of each person who has served the U.S. armed forces," said Tonko. "Incorrect or incomplete military records can leave a service member, their family or their descendants without vital documentation or with an inaccurate or incomplete story of their loved one’s service. I am grateful to Roberta Reno for bringing to my attention this critical gap in how we correct and maintain our military records. Thanks to her tenacity and attention to historical detail, I am delighted to sponsor this legislation to help ensure critical errors and injustices like this one can begin to be corrected.”

Roberta Reno, the Town Historian of East Greenbush, ignited the idea of the Historical Record Exemption Act after she discovered an error in the historical military record of Private Samuel Helms, who served in the War of 1812. Reno contacted Rep. Tonko after her request to correct the record was refused consideration due to the fact that she is not a family member and was unable to track down any of his family members. Rep. Tonko’s bill would allow individuals other than the service members, their family members or next of kin to request corrections to military records that fix historical errors or restore or protect service members' reputations.

“This Historical Record Exemption would allow for the records of soldiers to be updated or changed due to circumstances uncovered and proved correct and needing change,” Reno observed. “The current rules for changing military records are for current soldiers and require forms that did not exist in the past.”

While serving in the War of 1812, Pvt. Samuel Helms was wrongly executed of desertion at an encampment in the area now known as Rensselaer, more specifically in the Hampton Manor neighborhood. Pvt. Helms’ record shows that he sometimes left to visit with his wife and children nearby, however, he always returned. Reno determined that Helm was illegally tried, but his historical records did not reflect that. Reno and other supporters now seek to legally clear Helms’ name, and change the laws so that other wrongfully accused service members can be remembered honorably. Rep. Tonko's bill ensures that the reputation of wrongfully accused military individuals can be restored and the record, even if that individual's immediate family members or next of kin are no longer living or otherwise unavailable.

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