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Defense Health Board Dover Port Mortuary Independent Review subcommittee releases report


Recommends organizational and operational changes

28 Feb 2012
WASHINGTON --  The subcommittee tasked to review operations at the Dover Port Mortuary completed their review and published an 86 page report.

The report was released by the Department of Defense today.

Retired Gen. John P. Abizad chaired the Dover Port Mortuary Independent Review Subcommittee that addressed and made recommendations concerning policies, procedures, and oversight.

The executive summary of the report states, “The subcommittee did not focus its review on disciplinary or retaliatory personnel actions that followed these investigations, which were the subject of another review.”

Instead the report indicates that the subcommittee conducted its work based on several procedural and substantive principles and adopted a comprehensive and long-term approach to addressing the systemic issues underlying the findings cited by previous investigations rather than focusing only on the most recent events.

Among the recommendations are giving the Commander of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations (AFMAO) Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) authority, placing the AFMAO on the list of centrally selected Air Force Commands, and providing the commander with special training to deal with the unique nature of the mission.

 Other recommendations are that the Secretary of Defense, in conjunction with the Secretary of the Army, should create a command position in the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System.

The report also recommends that the Secretary of the Army, as Executive Agent, should establish minimum standards of manning, training, and tour length of Service liaison teams at the AFMAO.

The report includes six recommendations regarding Command, Oversight, and Policy; four addressing Operations and Workflow for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System (AFMES); and ten addressing Operations and Workflow at the AFMAO.

New Jersey Rep. Rush Holt (D-12) who brought many of the allegations of wrong doing to light based on a complaint received from a constituent released a statement about the latest report.

“When I learned last summer that the unclaimed remains of American soldiers had been incinerated, mixed with

medical waste, and discarded in landfills, I demanded that the Pentagon come clean on these practices. I was appalled; indeed, Americans across the country were appalled,” said Holt. “I suspected, as Gen. Abizaid’s panel has now confirmed, that these practices had been going on for many years.  Even remains from the 9/11 terrorist attacks were treated in this way.”

Holt is demanding that the Pentagon provide absolute clarity and accountability and that it take far more aggressive steps to ensure this never happens again.

The report uncovered other disconcerting practices which Holt also referred to in his statement.

“I further found, and the panel has now confirmed, that the Pentagon continues to recognize an arbitrary ‘500 gram rule.’ Human remains weighing less than this amount may be discarded with no effort whatsoever to identify the person and treat his or her remains with dignity. The rule is further evidence that the Pentagon is making arbitrary decisions without input from soldiers, families, clergy, ethicists, or the public. It is deeply distressing that the Review Subcommittee stated only that it ‘found no reason to recommend any change to this practice,’ without providing any detail on the rule’s origins, approval, or how often it has been used.

Holt has called for the Pentagon to do some “soul searching” regarding their practices if they ever expect to restore honor and respect to the Department of Defense.

The report also found some discrepancies regarding previous reports. The report was just received several hours before the paper was to be published this week, however, the Journal will continue to follow this story.

Marty van Duyne

 

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