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Witness Testimony of Ms. Kathryn Condon, Executive Director of Army National Cemeteries Program, U.S. Department of Defense

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member McNerney and distinguished members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide the Department of the Army’s views on pending legislation.

Arlington National Cemetery is the preeminent national military cemetery, a place on the world stage where hundreds-of-thousands of American military service members lie in silent repose.  At Arlington we uphold appearance and operational standards that are second to none and that are befitting the acts of bravery and sacrifice committed by those who rest into eternity within these hallowed grounds.  It is a distinct honor to appear here before you and to testify as to the Army’s position on H.R. 2355, “The Hallowed Grounds Act” and H.R. 5735, which encourages erecting “The Tomb of Remembrance.”

In testifying before you this afternoon, I have the opportunity to reinforce the ideals we have worked hard to implement and strengthen at Arlington. 

H.R. 2355

H.R. 2355 would amend Title 38, United States Code, to exclude individuals who have been convicted of committing certain sex offenses from receiving certain burial-related benefits and funeral honors which are otherwise available to certain veterans, members of the Armed Forces, and related individuals, and for other purposes. 

Arlington National Cemetery’s primary mission is to honor the service of our nation’s Veterans.  The Army fully supports the intent of the proposed legislation to keep the most heinous of sex offenders from receiving the honor of interment or memorialization at Arlington National Cemetery.  The Army also defers to the Department of Veterans Affairs on the applicability and implementation of the proposed legislation within the 131 National Cemeteries as those cemeteries are operated by that Department.  

The Army cannot support H.R. 2355 as drafted.  Specifically, the bill only precludes convicted tier III sex offenders from burial or memorialization at Arlington National Cemetery.  There is no provision in the bill to prevent the interment or memorialization of a person found by an appropriate federal authority to have committed a tier III sex offense, but not yet convicted.  

  The Army looks forward to the opportunity to work with the Committee in an effort to resolve our concerns.

H.R. 5735

H.R. 5735 would provide for the establishment of a Tomb of Remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery for interment of cremated fragments of the  remains of members of the Armed Forces killed in Afghanistan, Iraq, or a subsequent conflict when the fragments are unidentifiable by use of DNA testing or other means because of the condition of the fragments, are unclaimed, or are identified and authorized by the person designated to direct disposition of the remains for interment in such memorial.    

The Army supports passage of H.R. 5735.  One of the most dignified ways to affect the final disposition of unidentifiable remains is to release them into an ossuary, a receptacle for burying human remains.  Arlington is the natural place to preserve the remains and memories of our unknown service members, using funds from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to erect an ossuary.  We would execute these duties with the same dignity, honor, respect and compassion that we exhibit every day with all services conducted at Arlington.

As the capable staff at Arlington National Cemetery is well versed in the complexities of burials, we recommend H.R. 5735 be amended to allow the determination of burial eligibilities into the Tomb of Remembrance to be left with the Department of Defense, rather than articulated specifically in the legislation.

CONCLUSION

The Army fully supports the intent of H.R. 2355, however, passage as currently drafted would fail to give the Department the full range of options required to appropriately implement the intent of the legislation, and we would appreciate the opportunity to confer with the Committee. 

Passage of H.R. 5735 would appropriately extend Arlington National Cemetery’s role in the proper disposition of service members’ remains in a way that presently is not practiced. 

On behalf of Arlington National Cemetery and the Department of the Army, I would like to express our appreciation for the support that Congress has provided over the years.