Tags: Pentagon | MIA | DNA | soldiers

Pentagon Reforms How It Finds, Identifies War Dead

By Courtney Coren   |   Tuesday, 01 Apr 2014 03:16 PM

The Defense Department is changing how it finds and identifies soldiers who died in previous wars as it embraces the advantages offered by modern technology.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Monday that the Defense Department will overhaul the process and the agencies responsible, National Public Radio reported.

Assistant Defense Secretary Michael Lumpkin said all such matters will now be handled by a single agency, which will allow for better communication between government officials and family members in addition to using more efficient scientific methods of identifying fallen servicemen by using DNA samples.

"We can clearly do better as a department," Lumpkin said. "We have found that we are structurally flawed to do the mission as it sits today. We need to break away from the way of traditionally doing business and fully embrace progressive science and streamline processes and practices."

Family members who have tried to obtain the remains of their loved ones from wars such as World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War have found the process tedious with very little results.

Both NPR and Pro Publica have reported that the Pentagon spends about $100 million a year on finding and identifying remains of the dead from past wars but only identifies 70 on average, even though Congress requires 200 per year. In 2013, only 60 were identified.

One of the problems is that the Defense Department has been hesitant to disinter service members' remains, which total close to 10,000 buried in graves marked as unknown in cemeteries around the world. A total of 83,000 are missing altogether.

The other major problem is the process. After World War II, the military used historical information along with bone and teeth analysis to identify bodies, a process that was wrought with mistakes, but this can now be done with a mere fragment using DNA analysis.

Josh Hyman, director of the University of Wisconsin's DNA sequencing lab, said the process could be streamlined if the department set up mobile testing labs at grave sites, testing the DNA of each person and matching it with family DNA.

"It's a matter of figuring out the logistics of this, but it's not ungodly expensive when you consider how much is being spent right now," Hyman said.

Lumpkin said the department is now embracing a DNA approach, which hadn't even been considered before.

"I want to just make it very clear that this will be something unique and new and different, and not business as usual," he said.

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