Latest Arlington Mix-Ups Face Congressional Scrutiny

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Rep. Rob Wittman, the Virginia Republican leading a House subcommittee hearing on the burial scandal at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday, noted at one point that the Army had promised to determine the correct location and identity of every person buried at Arlington. “It seems to me that now we have learned that the Army doesn’t plan on following up on that promise,” he said sternly, “that there is not going to be 100 percent certainty in the identification of remains.”

Kathryn Condon, the new chief at Arlington who is in charge of fixing the mess there, pledged that the Army would “work on every gravesite at Arlington” to make sure they are in order.

Condon was testifying at a hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations in the wake of my recent piece in TIME that showed that Arlington officials are trying to determine the identity of some remains through an analysis of faulty burial paperwork that led to screw ups in the first place, rather than digging in the dirt to be sure.

The hearing came a day after Army Secretary John McHugh responded in a letter to questions from Missouri Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill about the scope of the problem at Arlington. McHugh wrote that in the last several months, Arlington had discovered 18 graves that were “mismarked or unmarked,” mistakes that typically occur at Arlington because of paperwork problems.

McHugh’s letter did not detail exactly what “mismarked or unmarked” graves means, though it seems likely that he was referring to graves with the wrong headstones or none at all. (At the hearing, New Jersey Republican Rep. Jon Runyan announced that one of his constituents went out to visit the headstone of a family member in March, only to find the wrong headstone there. Arlington has since fixed the issue, Runyan said.)

Also testifying was Retired Air Force Col. Bill Koch. The remains of Koch’s wife, Jean, were involved in a horrifying domino-like series of burial mix-ups discovered last summer. “I think we have more than one Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery now,” Koch said at the hearings. Motioning over to where the reporters were sitting, he said, “Ask the media to keep it up.”

Condon did pledge to fix every problem at Arlington, though arguments over just what “fix” means are likely to continue for some time.