USA — Arlington Cemetery Fields Phone Calls From Worried Families

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)