HR 5172; the POW Accountability Act

| August 28, 2014

Veterans-Affairs2

We wrote over two years ago about how the Senate tried to get the Veterans’ Affairs Department to bounce their list of POWs off of the list that the Department of Defense POW/MIA Office maintains. Then-Secretary Shinseki responded that they scrubbed their list and found only two liars, and one was already deceased. It look us about two weeks to find another one, so obviously, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, once again, failed in their commitment to their job.

Here is the letter that Shinseki sent to Congress;

Shinseki Letter1Shinseki Letter2

So, Congress is trying to make the DVA do their job right this time with HR 5172;

A BILL

To direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to review the list of veterans designated as former prisoners of war, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

This Act may be cited as the `POW Accountability Act’.

SEC. 2. REVIEW OF LISTS OF FORMER PRISONERS OF WAR.

(a) Review of Lists of Prisoners of War- The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall review the VA POW list and the DOD POW list to identify any discrepancies in such lists.

(b) Inspector General Review of Process- The Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs shall review the process by which the Secretary determines that a veteran is a former prisoner of war, including whether the Secretary is following guidelines established by the Secretary to determine that a veteran is a former prisoner of war.

(c) Report- Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall submit to Congress a report on the VA POW list, including the following:

(1) Any discrepancies, by period of conflict, in the number of prisoners of war included on the VA POW list and the DOD POW list.

(2) With respect to veterans included on the VA POW list who are not included on the DOD POW list, information regarding how such determinations were made, including what types of evidence were used, in a manner that does not personally identify such veterans.

(3) The results of the review of the Inspector General under subsection (b), without change.

(d) Definitions- In this section:

(1) The term `DOD POW list’ means the list maintained by the Secretary of Defense, acting through the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, of members of the Armed Forces who were prisoners of war.

(2) The term `VA POW list’ means the list maintained by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs of veterans whom the Secretary determines are former prisoners of war.

One more mess that Shinseki refused to fix that has to be cleaned up now that he’s gone.

At this point, three Ohio Congressmen are the only sponsors of the bill; Bill Johnson, Steve Stivers, and Patrick Tiberi. You should contact your congressman and get him/her on board. This whole POW thing is at the root of the stolen valor zombie apocalypse that we’re currently experiencing. If we can get the VA to scrutinize this particular problem, maybe they’ll be more cognizant of the whole stolen valor thing – that they seem to be arm-in-arm with the phonies.

Category: "Your Tax Dollars At Work"

Comments (27)

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  1. ChipNASA says:

    So I’ll just sit and wait………zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz……Huh,…woah….must have dozed off wating for something to happen…….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..darn it again….maybe if I hold my breath………Unnhhhh………………………………………………..*turns blue*………………………..Thump……….

    /fin

  2. Hondo says:

    Regrettably, this bill does not go far enough.

    The VA Secretary should not have the legal authority to make a POW determination regarding POW status. Only DoD should have the authority to make the “POW/not-a-POW” determination.

    The law should also require an honorable discharge from the period of service during which an individual was held POW to retain entitlement to enhanced VA benefits due to former POWs.

    • Luddite4Change says:

      HOndo, the problem is that Congress established two different definitions of POW status in the first place.

      A good case in point was the Iranian hostages. Congress authorized them (and any subsequent “hostages” of terrorist organizations) VA status as POW very early on, but it took another decade plus for Congress to change the law so that they qualified for the POW medal and were included on the DOD list.

      I know of multiple cases were uniformed individuals are authorized inclusion on the VA POW list and not on the DOD list (nor authorized the medal) due to their detainment by foreign governments or organizations.

  3. Sparks says:

    Obama will stomp all over this because it is going to bring to light yet more VA problems and outright fraud.

  4. wilber says:

    that doesn’t seem to require VA to do anything to reconcile the lists.

  5. MCPO NYC USN Ret. says:

    At the VAMC, 23rd Street, NYC POW determinations are made by the phonies who clog the system on a daily basis.

    I saw a guy there one day, he could not have been any old than me, he was wearing US Navy Sea Bee crap all over his dirty cut off jean jacket, a Viet Nam POW ball cap and he had 5 mini Purple Hearts above his left breat pocket.

    I asked him, “where were you held”? He answered almost exactly like Eddie Murphy …

    I told him I was a retired Navy Master Chief and I would be pleased to learn more about his service … He grabbed his cane (Obama crutch) and disappeared faster than a prisoner at the Hanio Hilton who just plucked the prison key ring from a sleeping guard.

  6. Valerie says:

    It takes a law to get the VA to do a simple cross-check for the sake of database hygiene.

    For me, that says everything I need to know about every political appointee at the top of the VA.

    • Hondo says:

      Valerie, it’s worse than that.

      Under Federal law, the VA – NOT DoD – determines whether or not a person was a “POW” for the purposes of VA benefits. See 38 USC 101(32).

      This is IMO absolute BULLSH!T. DoD – NOT the freaking VA – should determine who does and who does not qualify as a POW.

      • rb325th says:

        DoD is more than happy to give VA all the responsibility for all things Veterans Related, and it is all about money.
        Once you leave the Service, they want nothing more to do with you at all. You would only cost them money they cannot spend on their pet project of the week.
        So it is left to the VA employees, many of who are not Veterans to sort through and figure out if you are or are not elligible for benefits. There is little to no conversation back and forth between DoD or the branches and VA on any matters. You show the VA a DD-214 and file your claims… They go from their looking at evidence that you provide them with and scant military documentation to go on in order for them to make the decision.
        It is a system rife for abuse, and it is abused…
        yet I got denied all three of my claims two days ago, within hours of me having my Comp and Pen exam, barely enough time for the VA Claims rep to read the damned doctors notes… plus they sipped an exam for one thing claimed entirely.
        So yes, it is one big clusterfuck from top to bottom and across the board.

        • Hondo says:

          All that may be true, rb325th. It is also irrelevant.

          Federal law explicitly gives the VA authority to determine who is, and who is not, a POW for VA benefits purposes. That is bullsh!t.

          DoD already has a process for doing that. It’s called award of the POW medal. People who DoD deems were bona fide POWs get awarded the POW medal. People who DoD does not deem bona fide POWs – or who are determined not to have served honorably while in a POW status – do not receive it.

          The VA should not be making that call, and should not have the authority to do so; DoD is already making it. The VA should be looking for one thing for POW status: does DoD say this individual rates the POW medal?

          This idiotic grant of authority to the VA to “re-do” something that’s already been determined by DoD is why the VA recognizes and provides benefits to nearly 2x as many Vietnam and DS/DS POWs as are known to have returned alive from both wars combined.

          There’s also no freaking excuse for the VA not cross-checking ALL POW claims with DoD, particularly for Vietnam and later claims. There simply aren’t that damn many POWs who returned from Vietnam and later conflicts alive, and for Vietnam in particular the list of names is both well-known and readily available from official sources. For Vietnam and later conflicts, the check should take about 2 minutes.

          Sorry, but this is one area in which the VA is flat on its ass – bigtime.

          • rb325th says:

            i am not disagreeing with you, I am jsut stating that once you sign out that last time, DoD no longer gives a rats ass about you and leave it all in the hands of the VA.
            yes, the rest was rather irrelevant, in a foul mood now due to VA idiocy, and shit is flying everywhere at the moment.

            • Hondo says:

              Sorry if I seemed unduly harsh above, rb325th.

              There are very few issues that truly anger me to the point of doing/saying something ill-advised. But fake POW claims are one of those few things.

              My apologies if I unloaded a bit more than was warranted.

          • Dave Hardin says:

            How does anything this black and white get so convoluted? Does the VA report anywhere how many are registered as POW’s?

            • Hondo says:

              I don’t think the VA does – at least, not publicly and periodically. I’m sure they have that info internally.

              However, various organizations – including Jonn here at TAH – have publicized the VA’s disconnect from reality on this issue. Here’s one such example:

              http://valorguardians.com/blog/?p=10894

              Short version: 661 POWs came back from Vietnam/SEA alive; about 550 were alive in 2009. In 2009 the VA was paying VA compensation to nearly nearly 1000 Vietnam “ex-POWs” – 966, to be precise.

              There are 21 legitimate POWs from the 1991 Gulf War. In 2009, the VA was paying compensation to nearly 300 individuals (286, to be exact) as Gulf War “ex-POWs”.

              I was wrong when I said the VA is paying compensation to nearly 2x as many people as are known to have returned as POWs from Vietnam and later. The reality is that in 2009 the VA was paying compensation to more than twice as many people as “ex-POWs” than returned alive from POW status during all US conflicts since Korea.

              I doubt the problem has gotten significantly better since.

              • Just an Old Dog says:

                If the VA has a 50% error rate in paying out benefits to phony POWS how many other people are they paying out to who arent eligible for jack-shit?
                Lets take a poll here, What % of total beneficeries is the VA paying that never served a day or werent elible because of early or dishonorable seperation?
                Im wagering 15% mimimum. Thats not ever touching embellishers who served and bull-shitted the boards.

          • Luddite4Change says:

            Hondo,

            I agree with you that there is some incompetence with regard to POW status at the VA. At the very least the VA needs to periodically audit who is receiving or has requested eligibility to receive some benefits. However, I think that your emotion on this issue is misplaced a little for the following reasons.

            First, the VA and its authority to determine POW status predates not only the POW/MIA Medal but also the establishment of the DOD itself by decades.

            Also, you are putting way to much faith in DOD’s management of the POW Medal (For a good synopsis how DOD and Congress made an abortion of the authorization check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner_of_War_Medal). Not only has DOD been deficient in implementing law into policy, but you are making a huge assumption that DOD’s list of POW Medal recipients is correct. It is not. There were at least three awardees during Kosovo and there was an awardee in Korea in 1994/5 (http://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/pdf/09-1996.pdf).

            Lastly, as I mentioned above, I know and can see instances where the government might want to grant the VA POW benefit but still not grant the POW Medal. A good example of this would be the Hainan Island P-3 incident in 2001.

            In the final analysis, this issue is just the result of Congress writing multiple laws over time without de-conflicting responsibility/authority, without thinking of possible 2nd and 3rd order effects, and later having the world construct that the legislation was written for change.

            After reading the text of the bill, I believe it goes along way towards fixing the problems that AP identified, while also keeping the authorities in place for deserving individuals who have been detained in unique circumstances to receive the benefits that they earned, even if they don’t meet the contingencies that the POW Medal legislation was established for.

            • Hondo says:

              Luddite4Change: as they might have said where I grew up: “that dog don’t hunt”. Just because the VA has traditionally done something is not proof that they should continue to do so in perpetuity. That’s merely an example of the “we’ve always done it that way” fallacy.

              The VA has proven it is incompetent to determine POW status. Why do I say that? Well, the raw numbers indicate that – extremely strongly.

              Federal law – specifically, 18 38 USC 101(32)) – defines a former POW as follows (emphasis added):

              (32) The term “former prisoner of war” means a person who, while serving in the active military, naval or air service, was forcibly detained or interned in line of duty—

              (A) by an enemy government or its agents, or a hostile force, during a period of war; or

              (B) by a foreign government or its agents, or a hostile force, under circumstances which the Secretary finds to have been comparable to the circumstances under which persons have generally been forcibly detained or interned by enemy governments during periods of war.

              There is no way in hell that there were roughly 420 persons over and above the approximately 550 known Vietnam POWs who were living in 2009 that legitimately meet that criteria. Similarly, there is no way in hell that there were over 12 times as many persons other than legitimate, known POWs from the 1991 Gulf War who meet that criteria.

              Those numbers are for Vietnam and 1991 Gulf War POW claims alone. Hell, if you included everyone temporarily detained during the Cold War by Russia, China, and other nations together, I don’t believe you’d get to that number.

              My point: the VA has proven – conclusively – that they are incompetent to perform this function. Absolutely, flat on their ass, completely incompetent. They should not be doing it, and IMO they never should have been doing it in the first place.

              Regarding the POW Medal issue: your argument there is a strawman argument. While DPMO may not put the lists of officially-recognized World War II, Korea, Bosnia, and Iraq/Afghanistan POWs on their website, those lists exist – along with lists of those still missing. Similarly, the same is true of the argument that “a Korea POW Medal was recently issued”. Medals for which eligibility is made retroactive are in general only issued on application. Similarly, archived records are only corrected to reflect that new issue based on application as well. It would be a very simple matter for DoD to publish lists of recognized POWs from prior conflicts publicly – as they have done for Vietnam. Appeals regarding errors in such lists could be handled through the existing BCMR processes for each of the services. I kinda doubt you’d see too many such appeals with merit; there simply aren’t that many Korea and earlier vets still alive today.

              Cold War and other “corner case” detentions such as the 2001 Hainan incident are indeed exactly that: corner case exceptions. Since the Cold War was not a declared period of hostilities, to my knowledge no officially-recognized POWs exist for strictly Cold War operations (The W in POW does stand for “war”). I can see the need for a mechanism to allow competent authority to declare someone to have been been held “under similar conditions to those of POWs” for such cases. However, the VA is not the proper place for that determination, either. The VA has proven it is absolutely, flat-on-its-ass incompetent and clueless as to actual POW conditions and who legitimately qualifies. DoD should also be the ones to make that call, as they decidedly do have the demonstrated institutional understanding of what are – and what are not – conditions “comparable to the circumstances under which persons have generally been forcibly detained or interned by enemy governments during periods of war”.

              Bottom line: the VA is effing this up by the numbers. They’re giving away POW status based on self-provided (and IMO, in many cased self-produced) “documents” and lies – with IMO more than a 50% error rate. That absolutely needs to stop, and the only way I can see that this particular abuse (bogus POW status) will stop is to take the authority to make that determination away from the VA and give it to another agency that is competent to do it.

              DoD has the competence, and it’s something that IMO they should have been doing all along. The proper fix is both obvious and simple.

              • Luddite4Change says:

                If DOD had the competence, they would not have made the abortion of POW medal issuance that they made.

                Remember, DOD and the Services were against creating a medal in the first place, and then did pretty much everything in their power to restrict the award, or in multiple cases authorize it but didn’t issue it.

                How would you modify the language of the Bill, or the US code to ensure that posers are easily identified?

                • Luddite4Change says:

                  Hondo,

                  I assume you meant 38 USC 101 (32).

                  If you are beating the drum on sorting out DOD/VA authorities, perhaps its a good time to have Congress include a more delineated definition of a “Combat Veteran” in the definition section of either Title 10 or Title 38.

                • Hondo says:

                  Luddite4Change:

                  Sorry, didn’t see these comments for the past few days. Been on the road.

                  Yes, the correct reference is 38 USC 101(32). The link in my comment above is correct – e.g., it takes you to 38 USC 101(32) – and I thought I’d corrected the text part of the link also. Apparently I missed fixing the text; I’ll fix that shortly.

                  For USC 38, I’d insert the words “of Defense” after the word “Secretary: in 38 USC 101(32). I would also add the following as 38 USC 101(32)(3) “No individual who has not been officially determined by the Secretary of Defense to have been a POW, or who has been officially determined by the Secretary of Defense to have been held under equivalents conditions to POW captivity as described in subsection (32)(2) above, shall be permitted to receive enhanced veterans benefits.”

                  At some place in Title 10, I’d add language to the effect that DoD would (1) officially determine POW status; (2) would publish a list, updated annually, of officially-recognized POWs from all conflicts, beginning with the FY following enactment of the legislation requiring it; and (3) would publish, in publicly-accessible electronic format, a list of those individuals officially determined to have been detained “under circumstances which the Secretary finds to have been comparable to the circumstances under which persons have generally been forcibly detained or interned by enemy governments during periods of war.”

                  DoD knows what does and does not constitute being a POW, or equivalent treatment. The VA has proven, multiple times over, that it absolutely does not.

                  • Luddite4Change says:

                    No problem, hope you had a good long weekend.

                    I think that just adding, “the Secretary in coordination with the Secretary of Defense” would clear up the issue and force the two organizations to talk to each other.

                    While I agree that OSD needs to maintain a roster, I’m not so certain that it needs to be openly published.

                    I think of promotion lists which have multiple name redacted. I think that potentially publishing an updated list with an additional award, but being devoid of name and potentially location might cause more questions than its worth.

                    FWIW, as a large number of the awards post-Vietnam have been for situations outside of declared “War”, does it make sense to still call it the POW medal?

      • wilber says:

        might be useful to email Mr. Johnson’s office with the suggestion that be added as an amendment.

      • GDContractor says:

        But the record is replete with instances of the VA determining veteran status and combat experience. They’re just being consistent. //sarc

  7. FatCircles0311 says:

    It’s amazing that so many decades later the VA and the DoD still aren’t on the same page regarding records.

    Talk about mismanagement.

  8. OWB says:

    What is so disappointing about this is that of all the problems facing the VA and the nation, this is probably among the easiest to fix, but there seems to be little, if any, will to fix it. Congress must micromanage the fix by passing a law requiring the VA to do their jobs? Disgusting.