Cemetery employees will receive job training

Employees at Arlington National Cemetery for the first time will be able to enroll in a training program the Veteran Affairs Department operates, Secretary of the Army John McHugh, announced on Tuesday.

The National Cemetery Administration Training Center, created in 2004 to provide job instruction to workers at the 131 national cemeteries VA runs, will teach technical skills and leadership development to Arlington employees at all levels, from groundskeepers to supervisors.

Executive Director of the Army's National Cemetery Program Kathryn Condon said this will be the first formal training program ever for Arlington National Cemetery employees, according to a news report in The Washington Post. She described previous training as "on the job."

The agreement between the Army and VA, which extends through the end of fiscal 2013, allows as many as three Arlington employees at a time to attend each offering of the Cemetery Representative and Cemetery Operations courses at the training center, said VA spokeswoman Josephine Schuda on Wednesday. In fiscal 2011, there will be a total of five courses. "Other training opportunities may be made available on a case-by-case basis," Schuda said.

"While Arlington National Cemetery's unique military mission sets us apart from other national cemeteries, we are committed to learning from and partnering with experts in cemetery administration to improve overall operations," McHugh said Tuesday.

Problems at Arlington surfaced in June when an investigation by Army Inspector General R. Steven Whitcomb revealed that 211 gravesites either were misidentified or misplaced. In July, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., warned the problem could be much worse since the Army report surveyed only a small section of the cemetery.

McHugh also announced that Patrick Hallinan, former director of field operations at the National Cemetery Administration, is Arlington's new superintendant. Hallinan served as acting superintendant following the resignation of John C. Metzler in June.

"I have confidence in the dedicated workforce at Arlington, and the executive director and I look forward to continuing the progress we've made in the past few months to ensure our nation's heroes are laid to rest with dignity and honor," said Hallinan.

In September, McCaskill and Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., introduced legislation (S. 3860) to identify and resolve gravesite errors at Arlington. The legislation is in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

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