One year after leading the effort to reform management of Arlington National Cemetery, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill today got a firsthand progress report, saying she was "encouraged" by progress being made to address revelations of unmarked and mismarked graves of veterans.
The cemetery's new senior management team showed McCaskill the wholesale reforms implemented as a result of her legislation, such as a complete manual inventory of interment sites, the digitizing of burial records, and new tools for families of veterans. McCaskill successfully passed legislation last year to address oversight failures at Arlington, hold federal officials accountable, and address contracting mismanagement. Arlington Cemetery is required to produce a full report to Congress about their findings and improvements on December 22, 2011.
"I'm reassured at what I'm seeing," said McCaskill, Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight. "These improvements represent real progress, and they're a result of aggressive new management and better tools being put in place. The men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice deserve nothing less than the utmost dignity and respect. We're getting there."
Cemetery officials told McCaskill they have completed a comprehensive review of at least 86% of all interment sites at the cemetery to ensure accuracy of information and appropriate interment, correcting errors in cemetery records as they progress. They also demonstrated new computer systems in place at the cemetery.
Reforms and new procedures implemented at the cemetery include:
· A complete manual inventory, recording, and photographing of more than 259,000 interment and inurnment sites at the cemetery
· A new computerized, auditable system for bringing together all relevant information on each site (burial records, death certificates, site photograph)
· A digital mapping system of each site (with up to three-inch accuracy) and new online scheduling for families of veterans to request interments and determine the design of gravesite markers before the day of burial
Last year's revelations included the burial of eight separate sets of remains in a plot designated for one unknown veteran. Cemetery officials reported to McCaskill that four of those veterans have now been identified with the assistance of a forensic anthropologist and appropriately buried in consultation with their families.
McCaskill also praised the Army for relying on existing expertise and developing much of the new technology "in-house" instead of contracting out the work, pointing out that lax contracting oversight contributed to the widespread management failures.
McCaskill is an outspoken advocate for America's veterans, having helped to pass the 21st Century GI Bill which opened up educational opportunities for the country's newest veterans. McCaskill also helped pass into law sweeping improvements to veterans' care, through the Caregiver and Veterans Health Services Act. Last week, McCaskill was in Columbia, Mo., where she announced the expansion of her Veterans Customer Satisfaction Program--her effort to collect confidential input from the state's veterans about the quality of care and customer service they receive from the VA. Veterans can visit McCaskill's website, HERE, to continue to participate in the Veterans Customer Satisfaction Program.