VVA Testimony VVA Testimony
VVA Testimony
Statement

For the Record 

VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICA
   Submitted By
 Gary Jones, National Chair
Vietnam Veterans of America POW/MIA Committee
Before the
U.S. House of Representatives
Armed Services
Subcommittee on Military Personnel Regarding
Improving Recovery and Full Accounting of POW/MIA Personnel from all Past Conflicts

April 2, 2009

  

Good afternoon Madam Chair, Ranking Member Wilson, and distinguished Members of the Military Subcommittee on Personnel, Committee on Armed Services. Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) appreciates the opportunity to present our views for the Record on improving recovery and full accounting of POW/MIA personnel from all past conflicts.

Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) has worked toward resolution of the POW/MIA issue for more than 30 years -- since our founding in 1978 -- aiming for the fullest possible accounting of all POW/MIAs. In fact, as we note every year in our annual testimony before the joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, the fullest humanly possible resolution of the fate of our POW/MIAs continues to be the highest priority of our organization. VVA pursues that priority by advocating for and monitoring government-to-government efforts, raising public awareness, and calling upon private persons and groups to come forward with any information they had that might shed light upon individual cases.

VVA has a national POW/MIA Affairs Committee required by its constitution, as well as active state and chapter committees. These committees are the core of an integrated effort that has put POW/MIA flags above public buildings across America, has shared information with every other POW/MIA organization in the country, has let members of Congress and the President know that this priority is strong and alive. Our regular national publication, The VVA Veteran, updates all VVA members on POW/MIA issues.

VVA began POW/MIA missions abroad in 1981, to convince Vietnam of the commitment of American veterans to the fullest possible accounting. Against the urging of several U.S. government agencies, VVA leaders first discussed POW/MIA issues with Vietnam in 1981 and with Vietnam and Cambodia in 1989 during a humanitarian visit. Both trips contributed to POW/MIA talks being opened by those respective countries with the U.S. government. VVA has also taken part in presidential and congressional trips. As early as 1982, VVA was instrumental in the return of the remains of POW/MIAs. Vietnam’s foreign minister said Vietnam would work with VVA on POW/MIA and Agent Orange issues. In 1985, Vietnam asked VVA leaders to visit Hanoi every three months to work on issues. While we have not been able meet that request, we have sent delegations approximately once per year to pursue the VVA “Veterans’ Initiative” program.

Today there are 1,742 missing and unaccounted for since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975; 1,334 in Vietnam, 343 in Laos, 57 in Cambodia and 7 in PRC territorial waters. 90% of the 1,742 that are still missing from the Vietnam War were lost in Vietnam or in areas of Laos and Cambodia under Vietnam’s wartime control. 

We believe that Congress must exercise close oversight to ensure that the maximum effort is made to secure the release of any American who might still be held captive, and to recover the remains of those who have perished.

Madam Chair, every President since President Gerald Ford has noted that the Nation’s highest priority is the fullest possible accounting for our Missing in Action (MIAs), whether they be Prisoners of War or that this activity be recovery of remains, and returning these remains to American soil. In any case, resolution for the families involved is essential. We urge this distinguished Subcommittee to ensure that the resources are there to do the job right. The Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) budget for 2006 fell about $3.6 million short and caused the cancellation and scaling back of many investigative and recovery operations. VVA requests that JPAC funding be a mandatory single line item budget in the FY2010 budget, just as the Defense Intelligence Agency's (DIA) Stoney Beach Team is, so that these accounting operations don’t have to compete with other funding priorities within DOD.

VVA also recommends that United States government continue to press the Vietnamese government to increase its unilateral efforts, and to demonstrate greater cooperation by facilitating follow-up of live sighting reports, expanding its participation in joint remains recovery efforts, opening its wartime archives, and helping to locate Vietnamese citizens and soldiers who witnessed incidents of loss. VVA further urges that you request that the President of the United States continue to press the Vietnamese government, as a matter of highest priority, for the fullest possible accounting of POW/MIAs lost in the Vietnam War, utilizing both joint and unilateral activities. Specifically, we have called for the highest priority of effort to be focused on the accounting for

Any American POW/MIAs who may still be alive in Southeast Asia and held against their will; and

Those last known alive or known to have died in captivity.

Needless to say, VVA also believes that the accounting for and return of the remains of American soldiers believed to have been killed in action without their bodies being recovered must also be treated as a priority matter and aggressively pursued. We also strongly urge similar efforts with the governments of Laos and Cambodia.

VVA continues to seek the fullest possible accounting of the status of any American service member who had been a Prisoner of War or had been declared Missing in Action (or, in current terminology, DUSTWUN: “Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown” for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq). While we appreciate the efforts of the United States government to search for remains of our troops in Southeast Asia, we advocate for an increase in funding to fund additional teams so as to speed up the searches. In addition, efforts on the Korean peninsula and with China must continue insofar as we are able to engage on this issue with those governments.

 

 

We know of certain individuals, sons of servicemen missing or killed in action whose bodies have never been recovered yet for whom the locations of their demise is known, who have been told that it will be years before teams of searchers can get to these sites. Why? Because there are scores of other sites that have been identified and have priority.

This isn’t right. There is still too much pain from the Vietnam War that is felt, daily, by the families of those who have never returned. Additional teams in both Vietnam and Laos can go a long way towards speeding up the process of discovery and exploration, to include revisiting sites already visited once to be sure that all possibilities have been exhausted.

Additionally, VVA shall continue to press to have all government documents pertaining to POW/MIAs from Vietnam and earlier conflicts are declassified and released for public inspection this year. Certainly, after almost 35 years since the end of the war in Vietnam, any assertion that our national security will be compromised by taking this declassification action simply strains credulity to the limits.

VVA also seeks a public awareness program to be implemented by the Department of Defense to inform families of those still listed as POW/MIA of the need to provide DNA samples for potential identification of their loved ones whose remains might be recovered years from now.

VVA shall encourage Congress to pass a resolution urging the government of Vietnam to provide all relevant wartime records on American POW/MIAs, and to renew calls for Vietnam to make all possible efforts to help us to recover and repatriate all remains of service members still unaccounted for in Vietnam.

We also advocate removing the proprietary “ownership” of individual organizations and agencies from the effort to recover remains and learn of the fate of those who were known to have been captured but never returned home. VVA and the VFW, for instance, have nearly identical programs like the one we call the “Veterans Initiative.” While VVA started our program first, when the VFW asked if we objected to them doing the same or a similar effort, we said please do all you can. We are all on the same mission. The only difference is that the VVA takes our effort to the provinces personally, on visits as often as we can manage, not just to the central government in Hanoi. While there are many different approaches to the mission, the mission remains the same, and a unified effort would be more powerful and productive than the splintered approach that we see with all the many “POW organizations.”

Perhaps more important, we (collectively and our government) need to concentrate more on developing relationships between our nation and the countries of Southeast Asia. These relationships should be on a person-to-person basis, one veteran or one citizen to another. Organizations should promote visitations between people and spend less time on catering to the “I-can’t-forget –the-war groups.” VVA has consistently stated for the past decade that without the fullest possible accounting of all of our service members the Vietnam War, America's longest, is not over. We do acknowledge that Vietnam has made some serious efforts to assist our government in achieving the fullest possible accounting for our Southeast Asia POW/MIAs. Nonetheless, we still earnestly believe that the Vietnamese government can, and must, do more. Similarly, our government can, and must, do more.

In closing we would like to thank the efforts and sacrifice that the men and women of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and its predecessors; the JCRC, JTF-FA, CIL-HI, and Stony Beach have made in the pursuit of the fullest possible accounting of our Prisoners of War and Missing in Action.

Few Americans are aware of the difficulty and danger involved in the pursuit of the organizations mission – the collection of information, investigation, physical recovery, identification, and return of our missing service members from not only the Vietnam War but also from past and current military actions. Theirs has been an ongoing mission of the highest priority since before the official end of the war in Southeast Asia. Committed to their motto, “Until They are Home,” the men and women of JPAC perform their duties to the highest professional standards, even when confronted with the potential dangers involved.

Madam Chair and members of the Subcommittee on Personnel, thank you for the opportunity to present our views for the record.

VIETNAM VETERANS OF AMERICAPRIVATE
Funding Statement
April 2, 2009

The national organization Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) is a non-profit veterans' membership organization registered as a 501(c) (19) with the Internal Revenue Service. VVA is also appropriately registered with the Secretary of the Senate and the Clerk of the House of Representatives in compliance with the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995.

VVA is not currently in receipt of any federal grant or contract, other than the routine allocation of office space and associated resources in VA Regional Offices for outreach and direct services through its Veterans Benefits Program (Service Representatives). This is also true of the previous two fiscal years.

For Further Information, Contact:
Executive Director of Policy and Government Affairs
Vietnam Veterans of America
(301) 585-4000, extension 127

GARY PALMER JONES

Gary Palmer Jones was elected as Chair of VVA National POW/MIA Committee in 2007 our 13th National Convention. He served as Commissioned Officer in the US Navy from 1964-1969 and in 1968-1969 was Officer in Charge, Naval Support Activity Detachment Dong Ha, and Republic of South Viet Nam.

He has received numerious awards including the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for Heroism; Navy Commendation Medal with Combat Distinguishing Device; Navy Unit Citation Ribbon; National Defense Service Medal; Vietnam Campaign Medal; Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm and Vietnam Service Medal.

Mr. Jones earned his BS degree in geology, from the University of Washington, in Seattle and is also a 1966 graduate from the US Naval Engineering School in San Diego, California.

He lives in Saint Louisville, Ohio where he is very active in his community and veterans affairs.

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