Ahead of Veterans Day this year, the Department of Veterans Affairs expanded its Veterans Legacy Memorial to include more records of veteran profiles buried or interred in sites around the world in what Undersecretary of Memorial Affairs Matthew Quinn described as “the most ambitious expansion of VLM since its creation” in 2019.
VLM is the agency's digital memorial platform it created in 2019 to honor veterans who served in the U.S. Armed Forces with memorial pages.
The platform grew from 4.8 million records in May to 9.8 million this month. The records were pulled from databases from VA cemeteries, Defense Department-managed cemeteries, from 13 of the 14 National Park Service cemeteries and from the more than 4,000 veterans laid to rest in 87 countries. Over 80,000 new records derive from state, tribal and territory cemeteries, as well.
New gravesites include Gettysburg and New York’s Green-Wood Cemetery, which sits in the top 25 of page count within the VLM database, as well as records from private cemeteries extending back from 1996.
“This particular effort of adding nearly 5 million additional pages was fairly complicated. We were tapping into a database that was new for us,” James LaPaglia, digital services officer at the National Cemetery Administration, told GovCIO Media & Research. “Within that database, there were all kinds of variations of locations and addresses and cemetery names. Medallions were a different type of record than the headstone records or the marker records. The team did a lot of development work to accommodate all those kinds of variations of data.”
Behind the scenes was a close partnership with VA's Office of Information and Technology, which added another development team to the program to speed up the development cycle.
Some of the new data elements in the records needed standardization, with an estimated 500,000 in need of being “cleaned up” with correct cemetery names and other updates to be more easily searched by the public.
Since the program's inception, VA has encouraged the public to share stories, photos and other mementos on their loved ones' profiles to remember their legacy. Today, more than 73,000 items of remembrance, including tributes and documents, have been posted to veteran pages by friends, family and historians.
In the previous release update earlier this year when the team added nearly 300,000 new records, it was the first time VLM comprised data outside VA records, collaborating with the Army to acquire veteran records from locations like Arlington National Cemetery.
Looking forward, LaPaglia said the team hopes to account for and digitize another 20 million records to eventually have a digital record of an estimated 30 million veterans dating back to the Revolutionary War. The team also wants to integrate more records from the American Battle Monuments Commission and have users fill in data on veterans who are not buried with large databases.