WASHINGTON -- In recent years, there's been a low demand for burials at Arlington National Cemetery, the nation's most sacred final resting place. Why? According to The Washington Post, a new inspector general report says that the cemetery's lack of voice mail led to a "lack of responsiveness." Families simply gave up trying to reach the cemetery and had their loved ones buried elsewhere.
A voice-mail system was added last year when new management came in to clean up the operational mess at the cemetery and, the Post reports, since then, "messages started piling up by the hundreds. Now that so many more families are reaching the cemetery, it has another problem: Except for those killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the average wait for a burial with full military honors has increased to almost three months."
It's the newest detail in what's been a string of problems related to management of Arlington National Cemetery since Salon.com started uncovering troubling issues in 2009, including numerous examples of headstones not matching the soldiers actually buried in grave sites, improper handling of remains, and general mismanagement of record keeping and budgetary matters by cemetery officials, despite whistle-blower attempts to get the Army to do something about the problems. Since that investigation and on-going scrutiny from other media and Congress, the Army's Criminal Investigation Division and the FBI have initiated criminal investigations into the years of mismanagement.
Army Secretary John McHugh, in a letter to congressional leaders, said the situation at the cemetery is getting better. McHugh's statement, via the Army News Service:
Arlington Cemetery’s new leadership has made significant progress cleaning up the mess by improving contracting and burial procedures, employee training and technology, the IG report found. The cemetery not only has voice mail; it’s on Facebook and Twitter, too.
After the scandal, the new IG report says, 20 percent of the cemetery’s 102 staff members retired or resigned. Since then, it has been authorized to increase its staff to 165 employees.
The House Armed Services Committee is slated to have a hearing on Friday on the on-going investigation into the years of cemetery mismanagement.
In just over a year, the cemetery's new management team has made major progress in reconciling decades' worth of paper records with physical graveside inspections to regain accountability.
They have put in place new policies and procedures to protect against and prevent the type of errors uncovered in the Army's previous investigations. Equipment and training have been modernized, contracting procedures revamped, a historic partnership created with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the workforce improved and reinvigorated, and ongoing outreach and information has been provided to family members and the American public.