Opening Statement of The Honorable Jon Runyan, Chairman, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs
Good morning and welcome everyone. This oversight hearing of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs will now come to order.
We are here today to examine issues facing our military and veterans’ cemeteries. Our goal in this hearing is to learn more about the operations of the National Cemetery Administration in recent months, as well as seek the Administration’s commentary on several focused issues that I will highlight momentarily.
We also wish to welcome Mr. Hallinan to his new role as the Executive Director of the Army National Military Cemeteries and to hear about his work and his vision for continuing the honorable mission of Arlington National Cemetery.
Previously, Mr. Hallinan worked side by side with the former Director, Ms. Kathryn Condon, and together they provided revitalization, leadership, and structure to an operation that had been plagued by mismanagement. Prior to that, he worked alongside Under Secretary Muro with the National Cemetery Administration, where he held various positions from laborer to cemetery director. So, Mr. Hallinan – welcome, and we look forward to hearing from you today.
The endeavors of NCA and ANC are among the most honorable in government. The people within these organizations work day-in and day-out to honor veterans and servicemembers with dignified burials, and to assist families and loved ones who must deal with loss and tremendous grief.
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge a few people who have come to sit in the audience for our hearing today.
Ms. Laurie Laychak], who lost her husband, David Laychak ,on 9/11 at the Pentagon is here today. Through TAPS, Laurie mentors other widows whose spouses have been buried within section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery.
Ms. Paula Davis, is a surviving mother who lost her only child, Army Private Justin Davis, in Afghanistan in 2006 at age 19. He is buried in section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery.
And, Ms. Rose Duval is a Vietnam Veteran herself, and the surviving mother of Air Force Technical Sergeant Scott Duffman, who died in Afghanistan in 2007. He is buried in section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery as well.
Ms. Laychak, Ms. Davis, Ms. Duval -- We truly thank you all for engaging in these issues, not only for your loved ones at Arlington National Cemetery, but also for the interest of so many families and friends who have suffered tragic loss, and who entrust Arlington National Cemetery and the National Cemetery Administration to assist them in honoring, and memorializing, their loved ones.
As I have said before, our Nation’s solemn obligation to honor those who have served does not cease at the end of their service, retirement, or ultimately, upon death, and it is the responsibility of the National Cemetery Administration and Arlington National Cemetery to see this commitment through.
Specifically today, the Committee is interested in hearing from the National Cemetery Administration on several focused areas, one of which is the burial access initiative for rural veterans.
In an attempt to provide service to veterans who do not live in close proximity to a National Cemetery, NCA has proposed to establish National Veterans Burial Grounds in rural areas where the veteran population is less than 25,000 within a 75 mile area.
This initiative targets Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Maine, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, and I look forward to hearing more about the progress of this initiative.
In addition, other issues have come to light since our last cemetery hearing, one of which is a matter of great sensitivity.
The Subcommittee has been made aware of a terrible incident that occurred in Indiana. In May of 2013, a veteran shot and killed a woman, in what was reported as a random act of violence. He wounded several others, and ultimately took his own life.
Although the law restricts an individual who commits a capital crime from burial in an NCA cemetery, or within Arlington National Cemetery, this murderer was interred within Fort Custer National Cemetery. This has, understandably, enraged and deeply hurt many people, including those injured, as well as the murder victim’s family. What can be done in situations such as this, and what authority should exist to correct unlawful interments that occur by way of error? This is a matter that the Committee seeks information upon today.
One other area that will be addressed today is a repeated concern that we hear from volunteer historians, local governments, and funeral professionals who seek to identify and recognize veterans buried with no next-of-kin. In April, we held a hearing and spoke about the NCA regulation that has prevented these groups from obtaining headstones or markers for veterans.
At that time, the Committee was informed that NCA was looking at a regulation rewrite to correct what had become an overly restrictive policy that prevents well-intentioned volunteers, or government entities, from obtaining these markers. As this is a matter of on-going concern, we will hear testimony on this issue today.
I would like to welcome our witnesses. As noted, these panelists play significant roles in ensuring that we as a Nation fulfill our responsibilities to honor those who have served us all.
We hope that through discussions and questioning such as will occur today, we can work collectively to not only meet the challenges, but to exceed the standard.
Mr. Patrick Hallinan is here representing the Army National Cemeteries Program, which includes perhaps the most recognizable site of our honored fallen in Arlington National Cemetery.
Mr. Glenn Powers, Deputy Under Secretary for Field Programs is here on behalf of the National Cemetery Administration, which oversees 131 cemeteries nationwide.
We will also be hearing from Mr. Todd Kleismit, the Director of Community and Government Relations for the Ohio Historical Society, Mr. Ray Kelley, who is the Director of National Legislative Service with VFW, Ms. Ami Neiberger-Miller, who is the Director of Outreach and Education with Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and Ms. Diane Zumatto, National Legislative Director for AMMVETS.
Finally, Statement for the Records have been received from Washington High School Educator, Mr. Paul LaRue, and Green-Wood Cemetery Historian, Mr. Jeff Richman.
With those introductions complete, I also thank the Members who are not on this Committee but who have expressed an interest in today’s hearing topic. I’d like to ask unanimous consent that Representative Stivers, Representative Brooks, and Representative Daines be allowed to participate in today’s hearing.
Hearing no objection, so ordered.
I thank you all for being with us today and I now yield to our Ranking Member for her opening statement.