We have a national obligation to never leave a combat troop unaccounted for. It is the responsibility of the Department of Defense to fulfill that obligation through JPAC, whose mission is “to identify unaccounted-for Americans from past conflicts.” This solemn vow is equally important to the families of those missing. How well the mission is accomplished reflects the collective value we place on troops’ sacrifices. According to Cole’s report, JPAC is failing.
In spite of this damning report, the situation was made worse when JPAC’s then-commander, Army Major General Stephen Tom, “disavowed [the report] and suppressed the findings.” What may have been an attempt to insulate JPAC from criticism now only makes its leadership look, well, dysfunctional. General Tom’s action, even without a single written objection to the factual basis of the report, prevented its use “for any purpose” (AP). As a result, the uncontested findings could not even be used internally to improve pursuit of JPAC’s vital mission.
There are signs of hope at JPAC. The current commander, Air Force Major General Kelly K. McKeague, has agreed that dysfunction exists and has stated the command is “doing something about it.” We must demand that those with oversight responsibility make sure he keeps his word, and that his actions result in rapid improvement.
The JPAC report and the fact it was disregarded present a serious situation that must be immediately fixed. Combined with the delay in delivering disability benefits due to the backlog of claims at the VA, we risk losing troops’ faith. They have more than enough reasons to doubt they will quickly receive needed benefits should they be wounded in combat or otherwise injured in service. And the JPAC report provides undeniable evidence for them to wonder if they will be returned home with dignity should they become missing in action.
As serious as both situations are, it’s hard to argue either could not have been prevented or corrected with proper departmental and congressional oversight. Instead, we’ve seen federal agencies, Congress, and the administration distracted by often self-generated issues designed only for political advantage. It’s beyond disheartening; it’s disgraceful, especially when their failures impact those who’ve given the most to our country.
When will leaders learn that everything eventually comes to light? And, like garbage, bad news never smells better with age.