Continued concern by Vietnam veteran groups about missing Americans from that war continue as the government office responsible for that mission, DoD’s Defense Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Accounting Agency (DPAA) has been without a director for 12 of its 23 months in existence since the departure of its first Director Michael Linnington in June. The concern mounts as the lack of visible progress to appoint a director continues despite formal written requests by several veterans groups to urge action on the vacated post.

In October, SOFREP learned that the replacement for Linnington had been selected but, before any formal announcement of that candidate’s name – another Army general – was publicly announced, he withdrew from consideration. This further clouded the DPAA top leadership selection process for an agency formed only two years ago to bring together three separate federal organizations to improve U.S. efforts to account as fully as possible for U.S. servicemen and designated civilians still missing from the Vietnam War.

Without a strong DPAA director to bring the issue before Congressional and public attention, the Vietnam War accounting operations have been reduced instead of increasing at the pace and scope of operations as requested by Vietnam veterans. In February SOFREP reported that two Green Beret associations and the National League of POW/MIA Families were frustrated with the low number of returned remains of Americans listed as still missing and otherwise unaccounted for from the Vietnam War – a failure exacerbated by a $20 million reduction in DPAA’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget of $132 million. The VVA (Vietnam Veterans of America) has joined them in requesting a renewed emphasis being placed on appointing a director.

That bitter frustration continues to grow with the members of the Special Forces Association, which has more than 10,000 members, and the Special Operations Association, which has more than 2,000 members, according to Michael Taylor, chairman of the joint SFA/SOA POW/MIA Committee.

The leadership of the SFA and the SOA were encouraged by the appointment of SecDef Mattis,” said Taylor. “We considered him a man of action and sent him a letter outlining our concerns with the accounting mission, especially DPAA’s budget and the appointment of a new director. In response, we received a letter from Acting Undersecretary of Defense (Policy) Theresa Whalen the selecting official who has been unable to fill the Director’s billet for eleven months. She merely reiterated the situation and conditions about which we were already well aware. She made no mention of the recommended emphasis on future actions we had urged for SecDef Mattis. We continue to have confidence in the workers of DPAA, but remain disappointed in their leadership and support at the highest levels of DoD.”

The wheels of change that led to the formation of DPAA began rolling in early 2014, when then-Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel directed the undersecretary of defense for policy to reorganize DoD’s efforts to account for personnel missing from our nation’s past conflicts. Hagel said, “Finding, recovering, and identifying the remains of these individuals is one of our highest responsibilities, and I believed that DoD could more effectively and transparently account for our missing personnel while ensuring their families receive timely and accurate information.”

In 2015, the DPAA was formed through consolidation of three federal organizations: the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO), based in the D.C. area; the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) based in Hawaii where two of three forensic laboratories are located and from which search teams are launched on missions to recover unaccounted-for Americans; and the Air Force’s Life Sciences Equipment Laboratory (LSEL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Linnington was the first DPAA director appointed in June 2015. He said he would serve a 10-year tour of duty with the fledging federal, merged agency. However, Linnington resigned in June 2016 after one year on the job, thus triggering a search for a new director that continues today – slowly.

Since Linnington’s departure, the acting DPAA director is Mrs. Fern Sumpter Winbush. A retired Army colonel, she was hired by her former boss Linnington, on Oct. 27, 2015, to formulate policy, oversee business development and increase outreach initiatives to achieve the agency’s goal of providing families and the nation with the “fullest possible accounting of missing personnel from past conflicts,” according to a DoD release.