The remains of seven crew members missing since the USS Oklahoma capsized in the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor have been identified, the military said Monday. The names of the servicemen identified using dental records will be released after their families have been notified.
In June, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency began digging up the remains of nearly 400 USS Oklahoma sailors and Marines from a veterans cemetery in Honolulu where they were buried as “unknowns.” Within five years, officials expect to identify about 80 percent of the Oklahoma crew members still considered missing.
The military says it started the project because advances in forensic science and technology are improving the ability to identify remains. On Nov. 9, officials exhumed the last four of 61 caskets containing unknown people from the Oklahoma. Many of the caskets include the remains of multiple individuals.
Families will have the option of receiving remains as they are identified, or waiting until the agency has more pieces of a body or even a complete skeleton.
Navy casualty officers will let families know their options. Altogether, 429 men on board the World War II battleship were killed. Only 35 were identified in the years immediately after. Identification work will be conducted at agency laboratories in Hawaii and Nebraska.
DNA analysis will be conducted at the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. More than 2,400 sailors, Marines and soldiers were killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Oklahoma’s casualties were second only to the USS Arizona, which lost 1,177 men. (Source: The Associated Press | Audrey McAvoy | November 9, 2015)
Program a game changer
The Veterans Choice program is a game changer in providing health services for veterans, with more seeking treatment — and getting it — rather than languishing on waitlists, the chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee said Sept. 9. Addressing a military and family symposium hosted by the Military Officers Association of America in Washington, D.C., Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) said 7.5 million more medical appointments have been made under the VA Choice program this year than last.
But he warned that VA Choice needs time to work and chastised veterans groups who oppose it because they see it as a step toward privatizing VA health services.
VA Choice was launched earlier this year to provide health care to veterans by letting them see a private doctor if they live more than 40 miles from a VA health facility or cannot get an appointment at a VA clinic or hospital within 30 days. But its rollout has faced challenges: Veterans who live within a 40-mile radius of a clinic often must still travel long distances to reach a VA facility that provides specialty care.
Veterans in rural, sparsely populated areas also face challenges finding a doctor who knows the program; in Alaska, for example, many vets are going without care, according to Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK). Veterans groups have said that privatization of VA health care will be a major talking point in the upcoming fiscal year and in the run up to the 2016 election.
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson proposed last month that VA health care be eliminated in favor of providing vouchers to veterans for private care, and combining VA services with Tricare, the Defense Department’s health program.
Isakson said VA Choice needs “time to work,” but added that the program, which last year received $10 billion in funding intended to last through 2017, along with health care provided at VA facilities, has “a long way to go” to reach the goal of providing seamless, quality care to veterans.
He also said the VA faces several challenges in preparing for the long-term care of post-9/11 veterans, to include improving health services for female veterans, mental health treatment, substance abuse, and pain management. He pledged that Congress, VA, veterans groups and the private sector would work together to ensure that VA has the funding and oversight it needs to get the job done. (Source: Military.com | Patricia Kime | September 9, 2015)
H.R.313 signed into law
President Obama has signed into law the Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act of 2015 sponsored by U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch aimed at giving federal workers who are also veterans extra time off to seek medical care.
The new law provides the employees with 104 hours of what Lynch calls “Wounded Warrior leave” during their first year in the federal workforce so that they can seek medical treatment for service-connected disabilities without being forced to take unpaid leave or forego their appointments.
The Massachusetts Democrat said getting the proposal to Obama’s desk was a bipartisan effort. The measure passed the House unanimously on Sept. 28 and then passed the Senate, also unanimously, on Oct. 26. Lynch said the new law reflects Congress’ gratitude and appreciation for the hardship and sacrifices made by veterans. (Source: The Associated Press | November 8, 2015)
Thomas Crisp is a retired military officer from Whitmire.