Lawmakers promise scrutiny of mishandling of troops' remains

The heads of two congressional defense panels vowed to examine corrective actions taken by the Air Force after the remains of fallen troops were mishandled, with one not ruling out congressional action.

The Air Force in a report released Tuesday said “gross mismanagement” of deceased troops’ remains had occurred at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Officials said new steps had been enacted to improve the way fallen troops are handled there.

ADVERTISEMENT
In a statement, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday he has ordered an independent review of operations at Port Mortuary at the Dover base.

“This panel will evaluate the changes that have been implemented to ensure that we are treating all of our fallen service members with the greatest reverence, dignity and respect,” Panetta said.

The leaders of the congressional Armed Services committees, which would be tasked with crafting any legislative changes to military mortuary operations, said Wednesday they are closely monitoring the situation.

"Paying tribute to our returning deceased heroes is a difficult task, made more so because there can never be any room for error,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) said Wednesday. “It appears that this important standard has not been upheld in all cases.

"We are also closely examining the special counsel's report, and the Air Force has committed to quickly providing a full briefing to the Armed Services Committee,” McKeon said in a statement. “The committee will not hesitate to act to reinforce standards of perfection for our returning fallen warriors."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said in he is “deeply distressed to learn that the remains of service members were not handled properly.”

The SASC chairman said he has asked his staff “to review the Air Force investigation to ensure the adequacy of the findings and of the corrective action taken."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) vowed Wednesday to tighten congressional oversight of military mortuary efforts.

"The reports from the Dover Air Force Base mortuary betray [a] commitment to our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines," she said in a statement.

"Congress will work with the Department of Defense to strengthen oversight and management of the Dover mortuary and other facilities," Pelosi said. "Our service members and their families deserve nothing less."

Updated at 4:20 p.m.