Panetta: Air Force to review Dover penalties

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"Everyone is aware in the department of these certain discrepancies between the two reports, and this is something that will continue to be worked," Little said.

(Photo: Jay Westcott)

He said the Air Force "did the right thing" by taking quick action to notify senior leadership and launching an investigation quickly.

Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner said her office is investigating allegations by the three whistle-blowers that the Air Force retaliated against them in several ways, including an attempt to fire one of them.

The three whistle-blowers still work at Dover. They are James Parsons, an embalming/autopsy technician; Mary Ellen Spera, a mortuary inspector; and William Zwicharowski, a senior mortuary inspector.

There is no suggestion of criminal wrongdoing at Dover, and the Air Force said it found no evidence that those faulted at Dover had deliberately mishandled any remains. They attributed the mistakes largely to a breakdown in procedures and a failure to fix problems that had been building over time.

As gruesome as the revelations appear, Schwartz acknowledged that it's possible that mistakes also were made before 2008, during a period when U.S. troops were killed at even higher rates in Iraq. Other Air Force officials said on Monday they knew of no prior cases of mishandled remains at Dover.

"I cannot certify with certainty that prior performance met our standard of perfection," Schwartz told reporters.

A total of four families affected directly by the investigation were told of it last weekend by Air Force officials.

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

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