By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 21, 2012 – The Defense Health Board has received findings and recommendations from an independent review of practices at the Dover Port Mortuary in Delaware directed in December by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said today.
"One of the department’s most sacred responsibilities is ensuring that the remains of our fallen heroes are recovered and returned to their families with the honor and dignity they have earned," Little said.
"In that respect," he added, "Secretary Panetta is awaiting the completion of the report by the Defense Health Board containing its findings and recommendations and expects to receive the official documentation on Feb. 29."
Panetta established an investigative subcommittee Dec. 2 following an Air Force investigation that found some remains were not handled in accordance with procedures at the Port Mortuary Division of Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations at Dover Air Force Base. Three civilian employees at the mortuary had filed complaints in 2010 about how some remains were handled at the facility, and the Air Force implemented several corrective actions as a result of the investigation, Air Force officials said last year.
Retired Army Gen. John P. Abizaid leads the panel, which the secretary established to assess current operations; the interface among Air Force mortuary affairs personnel, medical examiners and other services; and the impact and effectiveness of recent changes in policies and procedures.
Little said the subcommittee "focused on the policies, procedures and processes at Port Mortuary to assure that … [mortuary] and medical examiner functions are performed to the highest professional standards of care."
In December, Panetta said he was "deeply disturbed" to learn about the possible improper handling and preparation of remains of four service members at the mortuary.
"The department’s continuing promise to the families of our fallen heroes," Little said, "is that every step will be taken to protect the honor and respect that their loved ones richly deserve."