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Opening Statement of Hon. Jon Runyan, Chairman, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs

Good afternoon and welcome.  This oversight hearing of the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs will now come to order. 

We are here today to monitor the progress of the new administration at Arlington National Cemetery after taking over following the shocking revelations in last year’s Army IG Report.

Before we get started however, I would first like to recognize Mr. Richard Hopkins. 

Mr. Hopkins is a constituent of mine who has traveled from Marlton, NJ, to be with us here today.

Today’s hearing is of great interest to Mr. Hopkins because his parents are buried at Arlington Cemetery.

I got to know Richard shortly after he discovered that the wrong headstone marked his parents grave. 

He was understandably upset. As his Congressman I turned to Arlington for answers.

Working with Ms. Condon and her newly appointed team, Mr. Hopkins’ problem was resolved and the headstone fixed.

I had the privilege of paying my respects to Mr. Hopkins’ parents and seeing the new headstone with the correct names in person.

I believe this story highlights some of the heartache associated with the recent problems at Arlington.

We all know that one year at the helm of Arlington National Cemetery is not long enough to fix all of its problems.    

Years, if not decades of neglect and mismanagement cannot be fixed overnight, but with the experience the new leadership brings, great strides have been made.

The troubles at Arlington existed on all levels—from the highly publicized problems with gravesite locations, low employee morale, and an IT system that was virtually non-existent despite several years of development and millions of taxpayer’s dollars.

There have already been multiple hearings by other committees on the past performance and issues at Arlington. 

I want to be clear that it is not my intention to re-hash these issues and dwell on the past.

My focus, and that of this hearing, is on what the current administration at Arlington National Cemetery have accomplished thus far since taking over operation of the cemetery and how they plan to ensure these types of issues never occur again.

I believe one place to start is on the training of employees. As we all know practice makes perfect, and perfect is what our veterans and their families deserve.

I hope to hear an update from Ms. Condon about Arlington’s efforts to provide continuing training to their employees.

Training of substance that will help prevent the cemetery from repeating its past mistakes and keep employees accountable; knowing the standard and keeping it.

I was encouraged by what I saw on my last visit to Arlington National Cemetery earlier this spring.

Every indication that I have received is that there is a new attitude of performance and accountability at Arlington. 

Ms. Condon and her team have already put into action many changes that were needed and were long overdue.

And while much has been accomplished in just 12 months, there is still more hard work ahead.

I pledge the support of this Subcommittee to ensure all of last year’s discrepancies cited by the IG are corrected. I believe we all want this dark chapter in the cemetery’s history closed for good. 

I further offer the Committee’s support to the Department of the Army, the families of those buried at Arlington, the Veterans Service Organizations and all interested Americans to work together to ensure a much brighter future for Arlington National Cemetery as the iconic symbol of respect our nation has for all who have served their country.  

I would now call on the Ranking Member for his opening statement.