WASHINGTON, D.C. - Why was former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop granted a waiver by the Clinton Administration for burial at Arlington Cemetery?
Chairman Terry Everett of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations also wants to know why he has waited so long for a White House explanation. Everett repeated his request Wednesday, first made to President Clinton last December 18, but this time to Charles Ruff, counsel to the President. A separate request went to the U.S. Secret Service for records of access to the White House.
"This is just another example of how the White House denies Congress information and in so doing causes an investigation to go on and on," Everett said, "We’re anxious to conclude the matter, but the White House’s stonewalling prevents us from doing so."
Everett has expressed his high regard for Dr. Koop’s service as surgeon general on several occasions, but does not accept Dr. Koop’s withdrawal last February of his name for an Arlington burial reservation as disposing of the issue. Everett still wants information on the decision-making process behind the waiver and the individuals involved.
He said the waiver created an appearance of political motivation. A document obtained by the subcommittee suggests that Dr. Koop visited the White House about the same time as the President’s waiver approval on August 16, 1994. The waiver was also cleared by the office of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. Dr. Koop was a supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s national health care plan. Everett still wants to know if there is any connection between that support and the burial waiver.
Dr. Koop and the White House declined invitations to testify before Everett’s January 28 subcommittee hearing on Arlington burial waivers.
Objections to the waiver were relayed as early as August 1994 to then-Secretary of the Army Togo West by John H. Zirschky, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. In his memorandum, Zirschky pointed out that burial in Arlington has been "restricted largely to active duty and retired service members and those who received the highest military decorations or the Purple Heart."
In "virtually all instances," Zirschky wrote, exceptions have been granted only after the death of the individual. Otherwise, it would be the equivalent of reserving burial sites at Arlington, which is expressly prohibited by Arlington regulations. All available space at the cemetery would quickly be filled if such reservations were routinely allowed, according to Zirschky.
Zirschky also pointed out that exceptions to burial policy result in the displacement of eligible veterans. Zirschky recommended disapproval of the waiver.
The Clinton White House and Dr. Koop did not reveal the waiver, which was discovered only when Everett’s investigators reviewed Arlington burial waiver records while preparing for hearings last winter.