WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 15, 2014) – In testimony on Capitol Hill, the executive director of Army National Cemeteries said as the pace of interments remain at an all-time high, Arlington National Cemetery, in Virginia, continues process improvements.
In prepared remarks before a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee Wednesday, Patrick K. Hallinan said accountability improvements and use of geospatial mapping technology has allowed cemetery workers to certify each burial service on a daily basis by using duplicative verification of grave location and remains.
“Additionally, we continue to digitally photograph every casket or urn that is interred or inurned, and digitally associate that image with the burial record in our authoritative and auditable system of record,” he said. “Continual accountability processes have allowed Arlington National Cemetery to reconcile and begin corrective actions for the 5,496 remaining administrative errors in headstone and niche cover commemorations,” dating back to the mid-1900s.
Hallinan said those errors-of-fact, which are being corrected, include date of birth, spelling of names and the spouses of veterans not listed on headstones in the middle of the 20th century.
He also noted Arlington National Cemetery, or ANC, had established a system which now requires senior leaders to walk the grounds and review each section of the cemetery twice per year to ensure proper care and maintenance is being performed.
Hallinan told the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, that in fiscal year 2013, the Arlington National Cemetery staff conducted 5,823 committal services for veterans and family members. During the 2014 fiscal year, 7,163 committal services took place — a 19-percent increase.
Though committal services are at all-time highs, Hallinan said the cemetery continues with improvement projects, noting first that the placement of headstones and niche covers for those inurned at the Columbarium now averages 45-60 days instead of multiple months.
He said ANC continually seeks to further ensure quality and timely placement of electronically-ordered and government-provided headstones and niche covers.
“Primary next-of-kin or person authorized to direct disposition of the remains is able to view the grave marker of their loved one using our public website and the ‘ANC Explorer’ smart phone application,” Hallinan said, noting that cemetery representatives work with families using an automated headstone design tool to create a proposed headstone template.
“After the template is agreed upon, we wait a minimum of two weeks from the date of service to allow families the opportunity to change terms of endearment or other items of personal preference on the headstone,” Hallinan said.
In May, ANC Explorer version 2.0 was launched, simplifying navigation, providing pertinent information about the cemetery, and offering custom tour capabilities. It also allows the staff to push emergency-alert notifications to families and visitors inside ANC’s fence line. Hallinan said that in just two years, ANC Explorer has seen more than 121,000 downloads and an average of more than 1.45 million decedent searches monthly.
Hallinan also addressed the double expansion project, one of which is the “southern expansion,” the other the Millennium Project, which expands the cemetery to the north. The expansions will “ideally extend our first interment capacity out to the 2050s and will provide the cemetery and the nation an additional 27,282 burial opportunities,” he said, adding that the project is currently within budget, and on schedule to be completed in 2016.
Additionally, the Welcome Center’s visitor restrooms and basement office spaces began undergoing renovation in October. Planning and design efforts are also underway for the establishment of an ossuary, called the “Tomb of Remembrance,” which will serve as a dignified place to provide final dispensation of cremated remains, which may be comingled or unidentified, he said.
“We are also focused on continuously improving the experience of each family who arrives to inter their loved one,” Hallinan told the subcommittee. “Redesigning and improving the manner in which we gather and escort our funeral processions is a critical goal for fiscal year 2015. A new funeral procession queuing area will make our funeral organization and lineup much more intuitive and easier to negotiate for the veterans and families we serve.”