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The statement included this claim:
"There are still tens of thousands of missing service members from previous and current conflicts that our nation is working to find and repatriate."
A reader asked us: Tens of thousands?
The answer hinges on how missing is defined.
It turns out Scocos wasn’t the first to make such a claim.
A New Jersey state lawmaker said in 2011 that nearly "88,000 United States service members are still missing and unaccounted for, dating back to World War II."
PolitiFact New Jersey rated the statement Mostly True.
Our colleagues found that a couple of months earlier, the federal Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office had revised its figure of missing and unaccounted for from 88,000 to 83,601.
In checking Scocos’ claim, we found the most recent tally, as of Sept. 11, 2013, shows a slightly lower figure -- 83,343 service members as being unaccounted for.
"It’s not something that the average person is aware of," Jessica Pierno, spokeswoman for the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, told us.
Here’s a breakdown from the office, which was formed in 1993:
World War II
Iraq and other conflicts
The tallies make it clear that the federal government’s search-and-recovery efforts -- coordinated by the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office and the federal Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command -- are for remains.
"In all of the years we have been doing this, we have never found one to be alive," said Pierno, a native of Virocqua in western Wisconsin. But there is always hope when it comes to those missing from recent conflicts, she said.
Here’s how Pierno described the search process:
"Imagine a cold-case detective piecing together historical documents," she said.
Staff review a missing service person’s files, interview witnesses and use other methods to determine where the person went missing. If a precise location is found, a team travels there and does an excavation not unlike archeologists searching for dinosaur bones.
"There have been identifications made from a single tooth" and strands of hair, Pierno said.
Even service members missing from World War II can be identified by matching DNA from remains to the DNA of a family member.
Indeed, the list of missing continues to get a little bit smaller as more service members are accounted for.
For example, a burial was scheduled for Sept. 28, 2013, in Springville, Utah, following the recent recovery of the remains of 2nd Lt. Vernal J. Bird. His bomber crashed in New Guinea in March 1944.
The remains of Marine Lance Cpl. Merlin R. Allen of Bayfield, Wis., who was lost June 30, 1967, in a helicopter crash in Thua Thien-Hue Province, Vietnam, were identified in February 2013. A funeral was held several months later.
Accounting for the missing has not gone without controversy.
On Sept. 19, 2013, several weeks after a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing examined the recovery efforts, Senators Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) called on the Defense Department to address "reports of mismanagement and internal divisions" between the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.
"While we were encouraged to hear that DMPO and JPAC have finally begun work on the long overdue plan" to delineate responsibilities, the senators said in a statement, "we were concerned to hear that the plan was still in ‘coordination.' We were also troubled to learn that the department's approach to accounting may be doing families more harm than good by failing to provide them with a realistic assessment of the possibility of identifying missing service members."
At the hearing, the director of the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office had said that during the past year, he and "others in the personnel accounting community have made significant strides in improving our unity of effort. But this is an issue that clearly needs further work."
Scocos said: "There are still tens of thousands of missing service members from previous and current conflicts that our nation is working to find and repatriate."
One of the federal agencies responsible for searching for the missing, or at least their remains, puts the official count at more than 83,000 -- all of whom, or nearly all of whom, are deceased.
We rate Scocos’ statement True.
Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, John Scocos statement, Sept. 20, 2013
PolitiFact New Jersey, "Assemblyman Jack Conners says almost 88,000 U.S. service members are missing since World War II," Aug. 8, 2011
Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office, summary statistics, Sept. 11, 2013
Email interview, Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs communications director Carla Vigue, Sept. 24, 2013
Interview, Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office spokeswoman Jessica Pierno, Sept. 25, 2013
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