Senator Warner today filed legislation that would end the improper and unofficial system of "reserved" gravesites for VIPs at Arlington National Cemetery. In addition, Senator Warner's legislation directs the U.S. Army to fully investigate -- and report back to Congress within 180 days -- on the number of plots that may have been set aside in violation of a 1962 Army policy which clearly states that Arlington National Cemetery plots must be provided to any qualified military veteran, without regard to rank or status.
“It is a disgrace that back room deals apparently were being made that allowed high-ranking officers and other VIPs to pre-select the gravesites where they wished to be buried," Senator Warner said. "It is offensive that this improper reservation system could allow some general to trump the Arlington burial rights of a fallen soldier from Iraq or Afghanistan,” Senator Warner said.
Reserving plots at Arlington was allowed until 1962, when the cemetery began to fill up. But although the Army officially changed the rules and regulations to end reservations in 1962, cemetery superintendents allowed selected "senior officials" to pick areas of the cemetery where they wished to be buried. The Army Inspector General identified this practice as a serious violation of Army policy in the early 1990’s, but nothing was done to stop the practice and the process continued.
Kathryn Condon, who was appointed executive director of the Army National Cemeteries Program last year in the aftermath of the scandal at Arlington, has said the cemetery will honor reservations properly made before 1962, as long as the deceased meets current eligibility requirements for burial at Arlington. Published reports indicate cemetery officials currently are sifting through thousands of official and unofficial reservations that remain on file, and Senator Warner's legislation will ensure that it gets done in a timely and transparent way.
"What we’re saying is, Arlington managers must follow the rules," Senator Warner said. "Some general should not be able to say, ‘See that plot under the tree with the view? That’s the one I want.’”
The legislation filed today is the latest in Senator Warner's ongoing efforts to fix the mess at Arlington National Cemetery, which is the nation's most preeminent military burial ground. After published reports last year documented back-office processes which continued to rely on fragile paper records and hand-written maps, Senator Warner enlisted the help of the non-profit Northern Virginia Technology Council in reviewing and recommending ways to digitize Arlington's burial records. The NVTC's pro-bono report also recommended specific steps that could dramatically improve Arlington's customer services to grieving military families.
This inadequate system of record-keeping is at the center of many of the problems identified in a report last year by the Army's inspector general, which found numerous graves that were unmarked or misidentified, as well as misplaced headstones and unidentified burial urns. The report also found that the cemetery relied on a single fax machine to handle the thousands of requests for burial the cemetery receives each year, often making it impossible for families to transmit a multitude of documents that Arlington officials required to document eligibility for burial. Much of that information was available on existing Army and Department of Veterans Affairs computer systems, but Arlington employees had no way to access the information since the cemetery operated without modern technology.
"Our legislation codifies Army regulations and provides accountability and transparency to the process, with a full audit and then a report back to Congress," Senator Warner said. "I want to lend my support to Army Secretary John McHugh and Superintendent Condon, who are trying to clean up this mess after years of neglect."
"This is the right thing to do. We owe this to our military men and women, our veterans and their families," Senator Warner said.