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Opening Statement of Hon. Jerry McNerney, Ranking Democratic Member, Subcommittee on Disablity Assistance and Memorial Affairs

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

Arlington National Cemetery is an unparalleled national treasure that serves a very unique mission. 

From humble beginnings as just a potter’s field in May 1864, Arlington National Cemetery became the preferred burial site for many of America’s veterans and other dignitaries including U.S. presidents, Supreme Court justices, and many of those who died in the attack on September 11, 2001, Arlington has become a national shrine. 

Each year, Arlington National Cemetery welcomes millions of visitors from both home and abroad and conducts thousands of burials of the highest honor. 

However, as we’ve recently uncovered, we are falling far short of our national commitment on many fronts in Arlington National Cemetery. In particular:

  1. Archaic Record Keeping – Arlington needs to update its antiquated system so that there is no doubt where any veteran is buried.  It is way past time to move to a fully electronic system.
  2. Contracting – Arlington needs to make sure that those with whom it contracts actually have the ability to deliver the desired end product or service.
  3. Mistaken Identities – Numerous articles in the past months, particularly a March 23, 2011 Time Magazine article, highlight the cases of mistaken identities in various gravesites as well as mismarked graves due to avoidable burial errors.

Mistakes like these simply need not happen. 

They are as avoidable as they are awful, and they rob us of time that could otherwise be spent ensuring that our Nation’s heroes are properly laid to rest.

These mistakes also rob those who are left behind of the peace of mind they deserve.

Today, I look forward to finding out more about whether and why there are lengthy burial delays as has been reported by some survivors. 

I also want to learn more about the 69 boxes of burial records recently found at a commercial storage facility by the owner who happened upon them in an abandoned unit—a fact that the ANC voluntarily disclosed to the Committee.  How did they get there, and what, if anything, does this mean for the security of possible identifying information and the integrity of gravesite locations?

Finally, I’d like to know what Congress can do to improve these situations.

I am heartened by the dedication that Ms. Kathryn A. Condon, the Executive Director of the Army National Cemeteries Programs, brings with her, along with Mr. Pat Hallinan, the newly installed Superintendant. 

I am hopeful that the Army National Cemeteries Program can avoid additional future shortcomings under their leadership.

I look forward to hearing an update on your December 2010 report to the DoD Inspector General and also where you plan to be in September 2011, when your next report is due. 

Our veterans and their loved ones deserve a 21st Century, world class burial system that supports their final place of rest with surety.

Thank you to our panelists for appearing today.  I look forward to working with you to maintain our promise to those who gave so much for our country. 

Thank you, and I yield back.