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What about the other national cemeteries?

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

A watchdog report on a "dysfunctional" and chaotic management system at Arlington National Cemetery confirms the worst fears of many who've monitored almost two years of award-winning reports about abuse at one of the nation's most important sites.

Maybe the good news is that the Defense Department operates just two of the nation's more than 145 national cemeteries, Arlington and the Old Soldier's Home in Washington. The rest are operated by the National Park Service -- which runs 14 -- and the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration, which operates 131 sites in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Military veterans honorably discharged from the Armed Forces, their spouses and dependents are eligible for burial at the national or 74 state military cemeteries at no cost to their families. The Cemetery Administration oversaw more than 106,000 burials last year and assisted with 27,000 burials at private cemeteries. The office also cut and shipped more than 352,000 headstones and markers.

In advance of Memorial Day, I met recently with VA's National Cemetery Administration Acting Director Steve Muro, who described the extensive training his workers must undergo before they begin burying the dead:

We’ve developed a corps we call cemetery representatives. They meet with the families day in and day out. four times a year we bring in a group – 25 of them – and we bring them into [a Cemetery Administration training site in] St. Louis and we have a contract with a funeral home. We have a full service – no one’s in the casket.
The funeral home has families come in so it looks like a real service and we’ll go through the process. We’ll have classroom work, field work to show them what is the standard we want, what is acceptable, what is our best practice.
We have an honor detail there too. Anything that would happen at a service, we conduct it as part of our training. They’re there for four days and part of the training is one day at the cemetery with this mock funeral. Walking through it, we start it and stop it, the hearse comes up with the casket, offloads it.

Let's put it this way: The Defense Department's training courses for Arlington National Cemetery workers are not as extensive as what Muro has in place. My conversation with him should remind anyone of some of the most important, solemn responsibilities of government.

On Thursday Army Secretary John McHugh and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced that National Cemetery Administration staffers will work with Arlington National Cemetery staff to sort out the mess. Someone on Capitol Hill may soon ask whether the Pentagon should operating Arlington. It seems high time to have such a conversation.

Agree or disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

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By Ed O'Keefe  | June 11, 2010; 5:34 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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Comments

As a volunteer for my congregation's cemetery committee, I am not surprised at the confusion that can creep into the record-keeping of cemeteries, especially since so many have paper-based systems. We just got our cemetery records, which date back to 1897, entered into a computer database, and it took some serious walking the grounds and comparing headstones to records to make sure we got it all straight. I also write about cemetery issues at my blog, The Family Plot: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don't Plan to Die (http://thefamilyplot.wordpress.com/).

Posted by: Gail_Rubin | June 11, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Thank you.It is a privilege to be another reader of news at...washingtonpost.com

Posted by: allaurador | June 11, 2010 10:38 PM | Report abuse

Gerry Connolly does not want pay freezes for federal workers.
Rep. Connolly, private sector workers are losing their jobs, and some have not gotten raises and/or had their hours cut back thanks to the recession, why should government workers be immune to the reality of the economy? Another example how Connolly is not interested in reducing spending. Check out this exchange Connolly had with Ben Bernanke and then Thank God you can vote this clown out in November:

“Rep. Gerry Connolly: ‘Can we get to serious deficit reduction, change that trajectory you talked about, if we eliminate half of the ledger sheet?’

“Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke: ‘Well theoretically we could if you cut enough, but it would be very difficult to do that.’

“Connolly: ‘Is there enough spending to be cut?’ “Bernanke: ‘Well, of course.’” (Bernanke testimony to the House Budget Committee, 6/9/10)

Is there enough spending to be cut?? Oh, I would say so!

Posted by: fairfaxgoper | June 15, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

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