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Pentagon Stands Up New POW/MIA Remains Agency

Cmdr. Kevin Torske, U.S. Navy, a senior forensic odontologist, catalogs the dental remains of a possible service member at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command headquarters at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. (Source: U.S. Defense Department)

The Defense Department will stand up a new organization tasked with finding the remains of U.S. troops from foreign wars after an internal investigation found significant problems with how previous searches were managed.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Monday the Defense Department will combine the Joint POW-MIA Accounting Command and the Defense POW-MIA Office to form a new agency that will "streamline" the process of finding America’s missing war dead.

The Defense Department continues the search for the tens of thousands of service members still missing from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Officials continue to find remains as people move into previously uninhabited battlefields and search techniques and technology advances. 

Pentagon leadership has been under pressure from Congress to make wide ranging changes after reports surfaced the Defense Department had excavated wrong sites, lost records, mishandled remains, and failed to follow significant leads on potential remains.

An internal study done by JPAC found the process to find America's war dead would likely go from "dysfunction to total failure" because of mismanagement and incompetence.

The Pentagon will create a centralized database and case management system that contains missing troops’ information, Hagel said. Families will also have a single point of contact under the new agency that has yet to be named. 

This is will make it easier for families to receive communications about the status of the searches for their loved ones -- a weakness under the previous organization, Hagel said.

The new agency will have a single identification authority, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner. The examiner will oversee the work done at the Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii and the satellite labs in Ohio and Nebraska.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., have led efforts in Congress to spur change within the Pentagon to improve the search process. Following Hagel's Monday announcement, the two issued a joint statement saying the Pentagon is "now taking concrete, enforceable steps to fix what has been a management mess."

Hagel said Monday that plenty of problems existed and change was needed to fix a search that is a "critical component of who we are as Americans from the beginning of this republic."

"If we put together a better institution, organization, better management, better structure, better use of our resources, then I hope we'll be far more effective in being able to accomplish the mission of identifying these missing remains and getting these missing remains brought home to the families," Hagel said Monday.

The defense secretary based his decision to stand up the new agency on a report put together by Mike Lumpkin, the acting undersecretary of defense for policy. Lumpkin and his team also worked with veterans service organizations to get feedback from families.

"We've been listening to and consulting with veterans' service organizations about how to improve the department's MIA operations.  And I appreciate, we all appreciate, their input and their support to ensure the full accounting of all of our country's missing service members," Hagel said.

-- Michael Hoffman can be reached at Michael.Hoffman@monster.com.

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Chuck Hagel POW-MIA Michael Hoffman
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