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SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — A bipartisan bill that would allow civilian Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command investigators to take their government-mandated furlough days after mission deployments has been referred to the House Committee on Armed Services for review.

The POW/MIA Accounting and Recovery Support Act of 2013 was introduced April 12 by Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., and co-sponsor Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., according to a statement from Lynch’s office. It would ensure that JPAC’s anthropologists, archeologists and life-support analysts who examine aircraft wreckage, for example, can continue working to locate missing servicemembers without interruption.

Currently, Defense Department civilians face taking 14 furlough days — two per pay period with no exceptions — between now and the end of the fiscal year in October, which would significantly impact JPAC operations, the statement said. JPAC missions generally last 35-45 days.

“This bill allows JPAC to continue on their important mission of making sure our country ‘leaves no man behind,’ ” Thompson said in the statement. “It’s an important promise we made to all our veterans and servicemembers, and this bill will protect JPAC’s civilian employees while they are on deployment.”

JPAC officials did not respond to a Stars and Stripes request seeking comment. Meaghan Maher, Lynch’s press secretary, said the bill has been referred to the armed services committee but did not say when it might be taken up for discussion or come to a vote.

JPAC employs more than 400 joint military and civilian personnel with four permanent detachments in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Germany, the statement said. Each mission usually includes at least three civilian workers.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has said the Defense Department plans to furlough as many as 800,000 civilian workers in response to sequestration cuts that took effect on March 1, the statement said.

The Defense Department estimates more than 83,000 Americans remain unaccounted for from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and other conflicts.

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.
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