Bureaucracy, Backlogs Leave Grieving Families Angered At Arlington Cemetery

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Bureaucracy and poor organization at Arlington National Cemetery add to the frustrations of grieving relatives laying military veterans to rest.

Arlington National Cemetery is the resting place of 400,000 veterans, but mismanagement is making the burial process a headache for families trying to secure a burial site at the historic cemetery. Backlogs have increased dramatically, headstone approval is taking longer and officials are applying selective enforcement of rules.

Andy Del Gallo, who has made hundreds of headstones for the cemetery, says its becoming increasingly difficult to work with cemetery officials, a Friday WJLA report states.

“Family members having to go through any angst at this point in time is problematic to me,” Del Gallo, owner of Eastern Memorials told WJLA. “It’s not about the business. It’s about having to go back to the families to say we are waiting. It’s been disapproved. We can’t do this. We can’t do that.”

Del Gallo says that the headstone process, which used to take roughly a week, is now a potentially months-long process. Backlogs at the cemetery, which totaled 500 in 2012, have since tripled, currently sitting at 1,300.

Adding to the collective fury of families is the seemingly selective enforcement of various rules on what can be etched on headstones. Lea Peak, whose father-in-law was buried in the cemetery nine months ago, is still battling officials over the headstone.

Peak’s father-in-law requested his widow’s name be etched on his headstone, but cemetery officials refused, saying it violates code. At least eight headstones, however, near Capt. Peak — including some built in 2014 — have etchings of loved ones names, according to WJLA.

Currently, a piece of wood marks the grave of Capt. Peak.

“There’s so much inconsistency,” Lea Peak told WJLA. “I’m very angry.”

A 2010 Army investigation uncovered egregious actions by cemetery officials that resulted in more than 100 unmarked graves and unearthed burial urns that were dumped in piles of excess dirt. When the investigation went public, the cemetery organization was overhauled and leadership changed, reports The Washington Post.

“I understand her frustration,” Renea Yates, deputy superintendent of the cemetery told WJLA regarding Peak’s case. “We’ve had a lot of work to do at Arlington National Cemetery. We’ve worked very diligently to address the many challenges.”

Backlogs continue to be the largest problem plaguing the cemetery, but Yates says officials are working hard to address the issue. She notes that they have doubled cemetery staff since 2013, which should help reduce the backlogs overtime.

“It’s a result of the stringent processes we have in place to review every marker,” Yates told WJLA about the longer process for burying loved ones, which has become the new normal. “That wasn’t happening before.”

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