Opening Statement of Hon. Jon Runyan, Chairman, 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 the current state of the final resting places for our nation’s fallen heroes. These cemeteries and monuments span across our country and the entire world: from my own District in New Jersey with Beverly National Cemetery; to across the Atlantic in Normandy, France; or across the Pacific with Clarke Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines.
Some of these cemeteries instantly bring to mind the triumph of courage in conflicts fought around the globe for liberty and freedom. Others hold memories of bravery now known only to God and those who died on the field of battle. Yet, each one of these national shrines has this in common: they are all honored tributes to our service men and women, now resting in peace.
I would like to welcome our witnesses today who oversee our fallen heroes in the many sites where they now rest.
Under Secretary Muro is here on behalf of the National Cemetery Administration which oversees 131 national cemeteries nationwide.
Ms. Kathryn Condon is here representing the Army National Cemeteries Program, which includes perhaps the most recognizable site of our honored fallen in Arlington National Cemetery.
Finally, Deputy-Secretary Wollman (WOL-MAN) represents the American Battle Monuments Commission whose mission is to serve our country’s fallen heroes and missing in action where they have served overseas.
I would note that the National Park Service was also invited, but has neglected to attend this hearing to my disappointment, and to the certain regret of the families they serve. It is my hope that they have corrected the problems in administration and upkeep of their cemeteries that this Subcommittee uncovered in the last congress.
This aside, I would like to begin the substance of this hearing on a positive note. I believe every person in this room agrees we have a solemn obligation to cherish their memory and heroic actions by holding ourselves and our organizations to the highest of standards. I also believe everyone here is as passionate as I am about our mutual duty in honoring our fallen heroes as best as we know how, with all the resources we can muster.
Overall, I believe every organization represented here does a great service to our nation’s service men and women, and their loved ones. With that said, over the last several months numerous problems have surfaced across our nation’s cemeteries. And they have not been isolated events confined to one agency or another. From Arlington to Fort Sam Houston, to Dover and beyond, tragedies and missteps have continued to mount, month after month.
Most recently, a series of audits conducted by NCA has revealed, to date, over 240 mismarked or unmarked graves and 8 veterans or their loved ones buried in the wrong place. Again, this was not a failing of just one national cemetery, but at 13 NCA cemeteries nationwide.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is a pattern here, and I find it totally unacceptable. We have a duty to ensure our nation’s veterans and their families that these problems will be repaired, and never occur again.
Granted, most of these misfortunes originated many years ago, and in many cases, decades ago. Only recently were most of these problems identified, and I am pleased to see solid progress being made to mend the harms across this nation so that our fallen service men and women can finally rest in peace.
However, this is no excuse for the problems that remain. Therefore, it is important to recognize that over the last several months we have set a new standard of excellence for ourselves.
It is one which recognizes that, just as our fallen service men and women once fought for our liberties, we must be diligent in fighting to ensure that our fallen heroes remain at peace. And that no family will ever have to suffer a second burial.
I am eager to hear of further progress that has been made in these regards, and what actions are being taken to ensure these same issues never resurface at any of our national cemeteries.
Furthermore, I am looking forward to hearing of advancements with respect to ensuring greater accessibility to veteran burial options; as well as measured progress outlined in the National Shrine Commitment.
I would now call on the Ranking Member for his opening statement.