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Arlington National Cemetery headstones

Ryan Gallucci
Deputy National Communications Director, AMVETS
Thursday, June 17, 2010; 1:00 PM

Several mud-caked headstones line the banks of a small stream at Arlington National Cemetery, the country's most venerated burial ground. Farther upstream in a wooded area, a few others lie submerged with the rocks that line the stream bed.

Already under fire in recent days for more than 200 unmarked or misidentified graves and a chaotic and dysfunctional management system, cemetery officials vowed to investigate the headstones along the stream and take "immediate corrective action," said Kaitlin Horst, a cemetery spokeswoman.

Ryan Gallucci, deputy director of AMVETS (American Veterans), was online Thursday, June 17, at 1 p.m. ET to discuss veterans' concerns about mismaagement of hallowed ground.

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Washington, DC: May I ask why so many of these headstones so close to bodies of water? Haven't the folks who manage the Cemetary learned the lesson of the recent flooding incidents in Arkansas and Kentucky? If you live on or near water, or you're buried on or near water, you're going to get flooded!

Ryan Gallucci: Officials at Arlington National Cemetery are scrambling for answers to the question as to why these headstones were discovered lining the creek. From what AMVETS has seen these headstones are probably not grave markers, but may be discarded, worn-out markers that should have been properly disposed of.

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Washington, DC: Sometimes I feel we as humans are victims of our own mis-thoughts and media filled minds that perfection can be achieved indefinitely. Though there is no excuse for anything that has happened at Arlington, I would be curious to know how wide spread similar problems are at other cemeteries.

Ryan Gallucci: Arlington National Cemetery is managed by the Department of the Army, as opposed to many of our national veterans' cemeteries, which are managed by VA's National Cemetery Administration, or NCA, and state cemeteries, which adhere to NCA standards. Overseas American military cemeteries (ie: Normandy) are managed by the Battlefield Monuments Commission.

Unfortunately, by Secretary McHugh's own admission, similar problems of mismarking can be found at other civilian cemeteries and even in NCA operations. However, there is zero room for error at Arlington, which continues to use an analog paper-based system to track veterans interned at the facility.

Though this has happened in other areas, NCA official diligently resolve these issues, and AMVETS was encouraged to hear that the Department of the Army will work closer with VA and NCA in the future to ensure that mistakes like this never happen again.

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Arlington, VA: What can normal Americans do to effect change on this? I saw this this morning and felt physically ill.

Ryan Gallucci: Americans can call/e-mail their elected officials and let them know that our veterans deserve better. This morning, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) announced that his committee will hold a formal hearing on these recent developments on June 30. It's all about accountability from here on out. The Department of the Army has ensured that conditions at Arlington will change. It's up to Americans to make sure this remains fresh in the minds of our nation's leaders.

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Suitland, Md: The mismanagement of our veterans in their final resting place is disturbing. Those men and women sacrificed everything for this country and they're not even shown the common decency of having correctly marked graves. My uncle, a retired Army Seargant, recently passed and is slated to be buried in Arlington in July. What hope does our family have that when we go to the cemetary to visit our loved one we'll be at the right location? It'd be devastating to find out years down the line that his records were mismanaged.

Ryan Gallucci: Thank you for your uncle's service to our great nation. This inkling of doubt is something that AMVETS has been talking about since the story broke. Families like yours deserve better. Thankfully, the Army is looking to provide you with the piece of mind you're seeking. The day after this news broke, the Army established a hot line for concerned families: (703) 607-8000 and press "0."

Also, the administrative changes made last week coupled with the implementation of a digital tracking system should ensure more consistent oversight down the road--something AMVETS will keep an eye on closely moving forward.

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Ryan Gallucci: With regard to the headstones discovered in the creek--this is simply inexcusable. If grave sites eroded and these headstones fell into the creek, the cemetery administration should have known about it and taken immediate corrective action to ensure that resting places were not disturbed.

If the headstones were replaced, national policy dictates that the old headstone must be destroyed beyond legibility.

As indicated by the Post's photo, this certainly did not happen.

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Washington, DC: A paper-based system for managing a huge Cemetary? Sounds like an two stores at Pentagon City mall I patronize, one an upscale department store and the other a hair salon. And here we are in the early 21st century!

Ryan Gallucci: Thankfully, Congress has set aside millions to bring Arlington's system up to date. The task now is to ensure that Department of the Army follows through on its promises from last week's press conference and that these funds are spent efficiently when commissioning an electronic tracking solution.

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Suitland, MD Again: Thank you for the number to the hotline and the condolences. My uncle was awarded two purple hearts during three tours in Vietnam; I can't even imagine the atrocities he witnessed and the memories he had to live with for the remainder of his life. I am sure my story is the same as every other family who has a loved one in the Cemetary in that this is what our loved ones wanted/needed to make them happy and we want to ensure it's done correctly. Thank you again.

Ryan Gallucci: I hope the hotline is helpful and that the Department of the Army can put your family at ease on this. What we saw this morning was equally as inexcusable as last week's mismarked graves controversy. We expect better and we'll continue to speak out until Arlington lives up to the expectations of our nation, properly honoring our fallen heroes.

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