Tester: Rebuild public trust over Arlington National Cemetery

Senator pushes for full disclosure and accountability for improper burials

(U.S. SENATE) – Restoring public trust in Arlington National Cemetery requires aggressive steps to permanently fix improper burials and fully disclose past mistakes, Senator Jon Tester told a Senate panel this week.

Tester, who declared mismarked Arlington graves a “black eye” in 2010, added that it was part of the nation’s commitment to its military families to know exactly where their loves ones lie. 

“It’s not only about honoring and taking care of those who wear the uniform,” Tester said.  “It’s about being there for families during their time of loss.  And when entrusted with the remains of their loved ones, it’s incumbent upon this nation to carry out its responsibilities with the utmost respect.”

Tester spoke during a Senate hearing examining recent efforts to improve the cemetery’s management.  He connected Arlington’s failures with the mishandling of troops’ remains at Dover Air Force Base, saying that in each instance the nation failed servicemembers and their families.

In response, Kathryn Condon, the head of the Army National Cemeteries Program, told Tester that her agency is taking significant steps to honor the fallen and to reach out to families. 

“We now have a means to communicate with those who are scheduling services,” Condon told Tester, highlighting the implementation of a more responsive call center.  “Before, literally, most of the telephone calls went unanswered, now every phone call to the cemetery is answered.”

Condon added that workers are inspecting and verifying the remains at every gravesite.  A December 2010 report called for increased manpower and improved techniques to better verify burial sites.

Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for more than 330,000 military servicemen and women.  It is one of two national cemeteries managed by the Army instead of the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

Tester is a leading Senate voice for the nation’s servicemembers and veterans.  In the wake of revelations last year that the Air Force mishandled troops’ remains at Dover Air Force Base, Tester demanded a full explanation for the base’s “gross mismanagement.”