The remains of 39,000 service members could still be identified — but DPAA needs more money

Elizabeth Howe
November 20, 2019 - 1:25 pm
DPAA Repatriation


The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency identified 218 sets of remains in 2019 — the most it has identified since it began identification and recovery efforts in 2015. But it still has work to do — and for that, it needs money.

"This is something we agree upon," Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., the chairman of the national security subcommittee said on the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency's need for funding— the agency working to bring home the remains of fallen service members. 

On Tuesday, a hearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s subpanel on national security outlined the successes and challenges of the DPAA and its partner organizations.

Every year since its creation, DPAA has increased the number of remains successfully recovered and identified, culminating in 2019 with 218 fallen service members. However, DPAA's 600-person team still has an estimated 39,000 sets of remains left to identify and recover. And for that, DPAA needs funds. 

The agency that brings home service members remains hopes to return to North Korea in 2020

"This is frankly one of those organizations we all hope no one will ever need. But when it is needed we want it to function effectively and properly," said Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga. 

Part of functioning effectively and properly means operating even during a government shutdown, which Lynch's bill hopes to achieve. H.R. 4879, the “Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency Support Act,” would ensure the agency has the necessary resources to continue its mission during government shutdowns.

Another part of functioning means having enough funding. DPAA is set to receive less in fiscal year 2020. 

Meet some of the people who bring soldiers' remains home

Last year, DPAA functioned with a $130 million budget in addition to a $30 million financial contribution from Congress. In the proposed fiscal year 2020 budget, DPAA has requested a slight budget increase of $146 million — and those involved with recovery efforts are hoping for another financial boost from Congress. 

"Resources remain the only major impediment to America being able to recover the men and women who lost their lives in service to this country," said Mark Noah, chief executive officer of History Flight. 

In order to help DPAA recover and identify more remains, it's partnered with groups like History Flight. In 2019, such partnerships cut DPAA's budget by $32 million according to the director of DPAA Kelly McKeague. 

On POW/MIA Recognition Day, meet the non-profit bringing service members home — History Flight

"Since 1952, the mortal remains of America's missing have been lost in the passage of time, discarded as trash, covered up by infrastructure and development, and accidentally disinterred in construction and agricultural cultivation of former battlefields," Noah said. “Land of the free, home of the brave, yet 81,864 missing Americans are buried in unmarked graves." 

According to McKeague, additional funding would help develop more partnerships, expand scientific staff, further digitization projects, and bring more Americans home.

"The DPAA will not waiver in its commitment to bring our missing heroes, their families, their comrades in arms, and the American people the answers they deserve," McKeague said. 

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