As we prepare to close the books on another year, it’s important to take stock of the freedom and security we too often take for granted, and pay tribute to the men and women who fight every day to make that possible.
Truly honoring the sacrifices of our troops, however, requires more than just gratitude, it requires action.
We’ve got more work to do to uphold the sacred promises we make to our men and women in uniform, and ensure our veterans receive the highest quality honor and care when they return home. But many of those veterans, dating back to wars almost half a century ago, never came home.
And the efforts to recover them have not been worthy of their sacrifice. Now, we’re changing that. Nearly two years ago, I discovered that efforts to recover the estimated 83,000 Americans who remain prisoners of war or missing in action—POW/MIA—were in disarray.
The Pentagon’s recovery efforts were a web of systemic mismanagement and overlapping bureaucracies, lacking coordination and leadership, resulting in a complete mismanagement of taxpayer dollars.
Tens of thousands of families did not know the status of search efforts, or the likelihood that their loved ones would one day be recovered.
After waging a nearly two-year battle, we’ve finally achieved needed changes. This past week, Congress gave final approval to my bipartisan legislation — which now heads to the president’s desk — directing the secretary of defense to create a single, streamlined agency to oversee these POW/MIA-recovery efforts.
My legislation, which was included in this year’s annual defense bill, makes one single agency responsible, with one federal official in charge, where previously, there had been neither. With no one in charge, no one was held accountable. I felt passionately about getting this right, because the status quo was unacceptable, and was unworthy of our troops.
When I led a Senate hearing to demand answers from officials in charge of our POW/MIA recovery efforts, they described disagreements about jurisdiction, organization, and even the central question of how many personnel are still unrecovered.
But my frustration with these officials was nothing compared with the shock I felt when reports surfaced that the Pentagon was staging phony “arrival” ceremonies for POW/MIAs using military props and remains that had already been returned to the U.S.
As the daughter of a World War II veteran, I couldn’t imagine how painful these revelations must be for families — many of whom have fought for decades to recover the remains of loved ones who were lost overseas.
These families deserve nothing less than complete honesty from the government their loved ones fought for. All this was an unpleasant reminder of the unconscionable mess I found years ago at Arlington National Cemetery, where records were incomplete and lost, oversight was non-existent, and in some cases, the remains of our war heroes weren’t even buried in the right location.
But as with the situation at Arlington — as anyone who knows me can tell you — when I’m upset, I don’t sit around and complain.
I forge solutions, fight for accountability, and find a way to fix a broken system. And when it comes to the men and women who have sworn to protect us, I’ll never stop fighting for them.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill is the daughter of a World War II veteran and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.