Congressman Jon Runyan (NJ-3), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (DAMA) of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, visited Arlington National Cemetery yesterday to receive a status report regarding ongoing efforts by the Department of the Army to rectify mismanagement at the Cemetery, including lax management and oversight, damaged graves, and improper burials. The Congressman's Subcommittee has partial jurisdiction over national veterans' cemeteries.
During his visit, Chairman Runyan was briefed by Mr. Patrick Hallinan, Superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery and Ms. Kathryn Condon, Executive Director of the Army National Cemeteries Program.
"Arlington Cemetery is a place to honor those who have fought for our nation. Previous mismanagement at this national shrine is inexcusable and I visited the Cemetery to gain first-hand insights into how these problems are being addressed," said Chairman Runyan. "As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs and a Member of the House Armed Services Committee, I will continue to closely monitor progress and improvements at Arlington to ensure that those who are buried there and their families receive burial with the dignity and respect they have more than earned."
In 2009, a series of news reports brought to light instances of missing headstones and unidentified remains, prompting an investigation by the Army Inspector General (IG). This Army IG report found over 200 discrepancies between exiting records and gravesites, burial urns that had been unearthed and dumped in unmarked areas, and more than 100 unmarked graves. Among the other findings cited, the report found numerous failings of leadership and systemic lack of organizational objectives - both at Arlington Cemetery and other Army National Cemeteries. The House Armed Services Committee conducted a hearing on the Army report in June of 2010, and bicameral legislation was signed into law in December of 2010, requiring the Secretary of the Army to report to Congress on Arlington Cemetery's ability to verify the identity, location and burial records of gravesites and to give an update on plans to remedy any errors found. This legislation, now Public Law 111-339, requires the Secretary to report on the progress toward changing the Cemetery's management and oversight structure.
Congressman Runyan's visit to Arlington Cemetery carried added emphasis after his office was contacted by a constituent from his congressional district who cited concerns about their family member's burial site.
"If this situation is still occurring with even one of my constituents, how many more families across the country are being impacted?" said Runyan. "It is our duty to ensure that our nation's servicemembers are honored in death with dignified burial and gravesites and I look forward to working with the Department of the Army and the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs to accomplish the goal of rectifying concerns expressed in the Army's IG report."