Q: What is POW/MIA Recognition Day?
A: More than four decades ago, President Jimmy Carter signed a proclamation to give special recognition to America’s service members who were prisoners of war (POW) or remain missing in action (MIA) and unaccounted for from conflicts that date as far back as World War II. Every year since 1979, Americans are called to observe the third Friday of September to recognize these heroes who fought for freedom and liberty on the frontlines of war. To date, more than 81,000 men and women remain missing and their families await the recovery and full accounting for the service and sacrifice of their loved ones. The Department of Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is tasked with the mission to find, recover, identify and repatriate remains of unaccounted heroes. For example, the agency recently announced U.S. Army Cpl. Delbert L. White of Ottumwa was accounted for from his service in the Korean War.
From 1991-1992, I served on the 12-member Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs that was authorized to investigate the federal government’s efforts to pursue all leads regarding service members listed as missing in action in Southeast Asia following the withdrawal from the Vietnam War. I worked to ensure the federal government, specifically the Defense Intelligence Agency, was leaving no stone unturned to fulfill its duty to pursue the possible survival and full accounting of more than 2,000 U.S. service members classified as missing in action after the Paris Peace Accords ended U.S. military involvement. It had been a generation since the war ended, and families were desperate for answers. As a member of the Select Committee, I worked to hold the government’s feet to the fire to provide transparency and a full accounting of its work on behalf of the missing soldiers and their families. I pressed to secure unprecedented declassification of information on behalf of the families waiting for answers. Just as members of the U.S. Armed Forces take a military oath to serve our country, the federal government must fulfill its end of the bargain: our service members and veterans shall not be forsaken or forgotten. In other words, the sons and daughters who put their lives on the line for America deserve the full measure of the federal government to fulfill its obligations for their service and sacrifice. What’s more, heartbroken families do not deserve to be kept in the dark and left hanging in the wind. They deserve answers and peace of mind that the federal government is doing everything in its power to bring them home and bring closure to loved ones left behind.
Q: How did your work on the POW/MIA Select Committee inform your approach to congressional oversight?
A: My oversight work is rooted in my constitutional responsibility of checks and balances, guided by my unbending principle to hold the government accountable to the people. The number one lesson I’ve learned in my decades of conducting congressional oversight boils down to a singular truth: Transparency brings accountability. Locking horns with the White House (no matter who sits in the Oval Office), the federal bureaucracy, the intelligence community, Pentagon brass or partisan stonewalling have provided instructive takeaways that reinforce my resolve to battle bureaucratic turf wars, rinse wrongdoing from the people’s business, root out mismanagement and corruption and stop wasteful spending on behalf of the taxpayer. It requires patience and helps to have thick skin and courageous whistleblowers willing to stick their necks out to tell the truth.
Most recently, my oversight work on behalf of veterans led me to oppose the Biden administration’s nominee for a key leadership position at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Tanya Bradsher’s confirmation puts her second in command of a troubled federal agency that has long struggled to keep its commitments to veterans, including secret waiting lists that were exposed during the Obama administration. This pattern of mismanagement undermines the public trust and is a disservice to those who answered the call to serve. Thanks to brave testimony provided by whistleblowers, I shared with my Senate colleagues how the nominee failed to properly oversee an internal system that put veterans’ personal health information and whistleblower identities at risk, and then misled the Senate about it. Her indifference to whistleblowers and congressional oversight is revealing. Even more troubling, after failing to secure this sensitive information, she will now be in charge of the VA’s efforts to modernize veterans’ electronic health records. I regularly hear from veterans who are having issues with the VA. Veterans deserve a transparent and accountable leader. Make no mistake, I’ll continue my eagle-eyed oversight of the federal government on behalf of our nation’s veterans.
POW/MIA Recognition Day is on Sept. 15, 2023, observed annually the third Friday of September.