The U.S. Senate has added $10 million to the budget of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency to help cover the cost of identifying Korean War remains turned over recently by the North Korean government.
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., co-sponsored the amendment to the “minibus” appropriations bill, which is being considered this week by the Senate.
The agency is tasked with identifying missing or unidentified service members from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. It has labs at Offutt Air Force Base and in Hawaii.
“The value of the work done by DPAA cannot be overstated,” Fischer said in a floor speech, before the amendment passed 85-0 Monday.
In a statement, Fischer said the extra $10 million — above the agency’s $131 million base budget — would help keep the Offutt lab operating at full capacity.
The Offutt lab is working to identify 388 unidentified service members who died aboard the USS Oklahoma during the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor as well as 49 unidentified soldiers from the 1942-43 battle of Buna, New Guinea. It also identifies remains excavated from World War II sites in Europe.
The Korean War remains will be identified at the lab in Honolulu.
Fischer said in her floor speech that the money would not add to the federal budget deficit because it would be offset by cuts in other areas. A spokeswoman said it would be taken from the military’s operations and maintenance budget.
The extra money is not part of the House version of the appropriations bill. A conference committee will have to work out whether to keep it in the final version of the legislation.
It’s not clear how many sets of remains are contained in the 55 transfer cases that North Korea turned over to the U.S. following the June 12 summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The flag-draped caskets were transferred to the Hawaii lab following a repatriation ceremony Aug. 1.
An op-ed article in Monday’s Washington Post — co-authored by Michael Dolski, a historian for the accounting agency — said it could take years to identify the remains. There are about 7,800 service members missing from the 1950-53 Korean War, according to the agency’s website.
“Part of the problem lies in not knowing where these troops died, or if their bodies were temporarily buried and subsequently relocated,” wrote Dolski and Sarah Wagner, an anthropology professor at George Washington University.
The article noted that North Korea turned over 208 boxes of remains in the early 1990s. They contained commingled remains from about 600 people, including at least 12 Koreans. The accounting agency is still making identifications from that set more than 20 years later.