'Everyone in death is equal'
VA's Durocher finds IT can help veterans and their families ? even in death
- By Judi Hasson
- Nov 05, 2000
National Cemetery Administration
A faceless bureaucrat to most Americans, Mark Durocher represents an important
component of the nation's pledge to make sure America's soldiers have the
dignity and respect they deserve in their final resting places.
Durocher oversees the information systems for the 119 national cemeteries
run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. His job is to make sure those
cemeteries — where soldiers as far back as the Revolutionary War are buried — operate smoothly and efficiently.
"When I got here, we tried to start fresh. I didn't stare at someone's
mistakes," he said. "It became obvious that our central need for business
automation revolved around interment."
Since 1984, Durocher, a Vietnam veteran, has been working with the VA's
National Cemetery Administration to create sophisticated databases that
will smooth the way for the bereaved to bury their loved ones without hassles.
His priority became creating a system that could interact with other
VA databases to check information ranging from burial eligibility to service
dates to making sure the information on a headstone was correct. The new
system replaced carbon-copy forms filled out on typewriters and mailed to
VA regional offices.
And it was a good thing he did because the job is getting bigger.
"Right now, 600,000 vets are passing away each year. And our goal has
been to get a national cemetery within 75 miles of every veteran," Durocher
The VA's cemeteries include its World War II cemetery — the National
Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, also known as the Punchbowl, located in
the crater of an extinct volcano overlooking Waikiki, Honolulu and Pearl
Harbor. (The nation's most famous cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery,
Arlington, Va., is run by the Army).
In the last two years, the VA has opened five new cemeteries — outside
Chicago, near Dallas, in Cleveland, in Seattle and in Albany, N.Y. And the
workload is increasing. By 2008, the number of eligible deceased veterans
is expected to rise to about 620,000 annually, comprising mostly veterans
from World War II and the Korean War, according to Durocher.
Managing the systems will continue to be a challenge. The VA is facing
the same problem as other government agencies — hackers attack the system
at least once a month. "Security is always an issue for us," he said.
In Durocher's line of work, personal service is essential. In addition
to using databases to confirm a veteran's eligibility to be buried at a
national cemetery, the National Cemetery Administration is providing other
computer-enhanced systems to provide information to loved ones.
"Many of our visitors come on the weekends," Durocher said. "And because
of budget cuts, most of our cemeteries don't have people working then."
Kiosks have been placed in 24 cemeteries to help people locate gravesites.
Each kiosk resembles an ATM with a touch screen that helps people look up
a person's record and provides a map to find a grave. Eventually, all 119
cemeteries will have the ability to tap into a database and locate a grave.
Nevertheless, most of the work is still done at headquarters in Washington,
D.C., where Durocher, with a small staff and a $5 million yearly budget,
makes sure a veteran is properly buried, that his family members are eligible
for burial, too, and that the proper paperwork is completed and the correct
information is on the headstone.
No one is given special treatment, he said — not prisoners of war or
members of Congress or officers. In fact, separate sections for officers
and enlisted men were phased out this century.
"Everyone in death is equal at our cemeteries," Durocher said — and
in a computer database as well.