Congress to Probe Military Over Family Notification of Killed Service Members

Spurred in part by mistakes made in reporting former NFL player Pat Tillman's death to his family, a congressional panel will hear testimony next week about what the military has done to improve how families are notified about service members killed in action.

Army and Air Force generals, a retired Marine Corps general and a high-ranking Navy officer are expected to testify Wednesday before a panel of House Armed Services Committee members, committee spokeswoman Loren Dealy said Thursday.

Tillman's case was one impetus for the hearing, but the panel has heard of casualty-notification problems in several other cases, Dealy said. The subcommittee wants to know whether the service branches have learned from their mistakes and implemented changes, she said.

Tillman, a San Jose native, turned down a lucrative new contract with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals to join the Army following the Sept. 11 attacks. He was killed April 22, 2004, by friendly fire in Afghanistan.

Although Pentagon investigators determined quickly that he was killed by his own troops, five weeks passed before the circumstances of his death were made public. During that time, the Army claimed he was killed by enemy fire. Tillman's family has said they believe it was part of a deliberate Pentagon cover-up.

A review of hundreds of casualty reports from Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere ordered by Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey found that the families of seven soldiers who died, including Tillman's, were given incorrect or misleading information about the deaths.

The subcommittee's next step will depend on its findings at the hearing, Dealy said.

Family members of slain soldiers are not scheduled to testify, because the hearing is meant solely to examine the military's notification processes, Dealy said.

Kevin Arata, a spokesman for the Army's Human Resources Command, said the Army took several steps last year to improve its notification process.

Now, all hostile-fire deaths in combat theaters must be investigated by the soldier's unit, Arata said.

The Army's Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Center must be notified of all suspected friendly fire cases, and both the Criminal Investigation Command and unit commanders in the field must report their hostile-death probes to that center, he said.

Wednesday's hearing would be the second pertaining to the Tillman case. In April, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held an inquiry into official military deception in Tillman's death and the reporting of the capture and rescue in Iraq of former Army private Jessica Lynch.