Tester seeks answers from Army about problems at Arlington National Cemetery
Senator asks for details on behalf of concerned Montana families
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester is asking the Department of the Army for answers on the continued management problems at Arlington National Cemetery, including improper or misidentified gravesites.
A story in the Washington Post this week exposed continuing problems at the cemetery, including the news that several individuals who contacted the Army’s family assistance hotline had received inaccurate information about the burial status of their loved one.
In a letter to the Secretary of the Army, Tester today asked for information about how many Montanans contacted the call center, if there are unresolved Montana inquiries, and how many calls to the call center resulted in the discovery of gravesite errors.
“I believe we have no greater responsibility than to honor our commitments to the men and women who serve our nation in the Armed Forces,” Tester wrote. “Unfortunately, when it comes to the promise of a dignified interment, the Army fell short of its responsibility in far too many cases.”
During a Veterans’ Affairs Committee Hearing in July, Tester questioned former Arlington National Cemetery officials about the cemetery mismanagement. Video of Tester’s exchange is available HERE.
Tester’s letter to Army is available online HERE. Text of the letter appears below.
September 23, 2010
The Honorable John McHugh
Department of the Army
The Pentagon, 20310-0101
Dear Mr. Secretary:
I write to express my deep concern over this week’s report by the Washington Post regarding Arlington National Cemetery’s continuing interment problems. In particular, I seek your personal involvement to ensure that Montanans who contacted the Cemetery’s hotline in recent months were provided correct information about the interment locations of their loved ones.
The Post’s report raises new concerns about the quality of the reviews done by the call center established earlier this year to resolve family inquiries about the interments of their loved ones. During the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight’s July hearing on failures at Arlington National Cemetery, Ms. Kathryn Condon specifically touted the call center as the best way to resolve family member concerns. In response to this announcement, my staff recommended to several constituents that they contact the Army’s hotline to verify that their loved ones were interred correctly. Today, the families who contacted the hotline are rightly worried that the information provided to them may not have been correct.
My constituents and all Americans expect and deserve certainty in confirming the locations of their loved ones’ remains. Therefore, I request that you provide the following information as soon as possible:
- How many Montana residents have contacted the call center since June 11, 2010?
- How did Cemetery officials conclusively determine the accuracy of grave sites in these cases? What specific process was used? Were any of the charts used to verify the accuracy of these grave sites later determined to be inaccurate? In how many cases were errors found and how were those gravesite errors corrected?
- Are there any inquiries raised by Montana residents that are still unresolved?
- How many of the total number of calls – not simply Montana-based calls – have resulted in the discovery of a gravesite error. What means were used to investigate these inquiries and what assurances can you provide that all errors at Arlington have now been corrected?
- What is the status of the Army’s efforts to modernize the charting process, and when will it be complete? To what extent has the Army begun using geospatial imaging technology?
- Based on news reports, it appears that several of the identified gravesite errors occurred in or as a result of inclement weather. How has the Army modified its procedures to prevent similar occurrences this winter?
As a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, I believe we have no greater responsibility than to honor our commitments to the men and women who serve our nation in the Armed Forces. Unfortunately, when it comes to the promise of a dignified interment, the Army fell short of its responsibility in far too many cases.
I know that you share my sadness and anger about this entire episode, and I applaud your commitment to making this right. I now look forward to learning more about your continued efforts to correct and finally end this sad and disgraceful chapter.