Air Force Investigates and Improves Mortuary Operation

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 8, 2011.  The Air Force announced today that it has completed a year-long investigation of the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations (AFMAO) at Dover Air Force Base, Dover, Del., and the point of entry for U.S. service members who are killed or die overseas.  The service implemented multiple corrective actions and took action regarding three senior mortuary officials responsible for operations at AFMAO after some employees complained about the handling of certain cases.

The Air Force Inspector General began its investigation in June 2010.  The investigation focused primarily on the handling of remains of four service members.  The Air Force inspector general’s investigation was conducted in coordination with other federal offices and included nearly 50 interviews and an extensive review of mortuary operating procedures.  Investigators found no evidence anyone intentionally mishandled remains, but concluded the mortuary staff failed to maintain accountability while processing portions of remains for three service members.  While it is likely that disposition of remains was by an appropriate method, it could not be shown that it was in accordance with the families’ directions.

Each family received remains of their service member for interment; the staff, however, was not able to ensure additional portions of remains were handled in a manner consistent with the families’ instructions.

The Air Force determined senior AFMAO officials failed to provide proper management and corrective actions when they did not respond appropriately to indications that procedures were inadequate to prevent problems related to the tracking of portions of human remains.

Additionally, the Air Force investigation determined the mortuary staff could have communicated more clearly with the representatives of a sister service about restorative actions taken to prepare the remains of a service member, killed by an improvised explosive device, whose family requested to view him in uniform.  In addition, the investigation found that while there were some deficiencies in administrative procedures, documentation, and electronic record keeping, the processes to which they related were appropriately conducted.  Public health was not endangered.

“The investigation concluded that the mission was always conducted with reverence, dignity, honor and respect for all served through the facility,” said Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff.

“However, the standard is 100 percent accountability in every instance of this important mission.  We can, and will, do better and as a result of the allegations and investigation; our ability to care for our fallen warriors is now stronger,” Schwartz said.  “In fact, throughout the past year new processes have been put in place to ensure the exacting standards are met every time.”

The Air Force has contacted family designated representatives of the four families directly affected and discussed these matters with them personally.

“It is the AFMAO staff’s mission and obligation to fulfill the nation’s commitment to caring for our fallen service members while also serving and supporting the families of these heroes,” said Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley.  “The employees who brought forth their concerns gave the Air Force an opportunity to make the operation of AFMAO better and stronger.  Their initiative allowed us to correct procedures and make long-term improvements to management of Air Force mortuary operations.”

The Air Force has requested, and the Secretary of Defense has directed, an independent assessment of the current overall operations of the Port Mortuary.

An independent panel of the Defense Health Board will evaluate current operations to ensure continued effectiveness of the Port Mortuary.  In addition, the review panel will identify whether the Air Force should be considering or taking any further actions to enhance these operations.

“I want to reassure our men and women in uniform, and the American public, that the Air Force mortuary standards they expect for our fallen heroes are being met,” Schwartz said.

The Dover mortuary’s staff consists of members of all branches of the military, including civilians and reservists.  The staff includes mortuary affairs specialists, morticians and other technical experts.  The staff operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and regularly responds to the trauma of war as staff members prepare the remains of fallen warriors under often-difficult circumstances.  Since 2003, the mortuary center has prepared more than 6,300 deceased individuals for return to their loved ones.

Families of fallen service members may contact the Air Force toll free at 1-855-637-2583 or e-mail at [email protected] if they have questions about this investigation or Air Force mortuary operations.