WASHINGTON, June 22, 2010 — Officials at Arlington National Cemetery have established a special call center to address concerns worried family members may have about the potential mishandling of their loved ones’ remains.
Family members with concerns can call 703–607-8199 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT.
The call center opened June 11, a day after Army Secretary John M. McHugh announced the findings of a months-long investigation into the cemetery’s records management. The report noted at least 200 cases of improper internment of remains, including lost accountability for remains, names and graves listed as empty.
More than 800 phone calls from concerned families have been fielded in less than a week of the Army’s announcement, spokeswoman Kaitlin Horst said today an interview with American Forces Press Service.
“We were very cognitive of the fact, after the secretary of the Army’s announcement, that there were going to be a lot of families that were very upset by the news,” Horst said. “The call center was established to give them an outlet to voice their concerns and put them on the phone with somebody to write down those concerns.”
Six people work in the call center, and are responsible for taking down information as well as researching requests. Their research includes checking records and verifying the physical location of the gravesite with the cemetery’s burial map, Horst explained.
The call center doesn’t have voicemail, Horst said, and that’s intentional. “We feel that it’s very important for family members to speak with someone on the phone,” she said, adding that she encourages callers to keep trying if they can’t get through right away.
Horst also noted that call center workers can release private information only to immediate family members.
The call center began returning calls yesterday, Horst said, and will continue do so until all of the concerns brought to the center’s attention are addressed. She couldn’t confirm the number of calls returned so far, but acknowledged that discrepancies such as incorrect military rank on headstones have been confirmed to some families.
Cemetery officials ask for patience from the families as they work through their concerns.
“It’s very important for the [cemetery staff] that a thorough and deliberate records search is conducted to ensure that when we get back to people and our response is accurate and complete,” Horst said.
Officials understand this is a stressful time for the families, and are committed to correcting the cemetery’s discrepancies, Horst said.
“Our sincerest apologies go out to the families where there are discrepancies,” she said. “First and foremost, we apologize for the distress this has caused them. We want the families to know that the new management team is committed to ensuring the records are accurate.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)