VA Cemetery Director Leaves Houston
It's been learned that the controversial director of the VA's Houston National Cemetery has been transferred to an administrative position at the VA's National Cemeteries Administration in Washington D.C.
Arleen Ocasio asked that she be transferred out of Houston.
Ocasio's move comes after out of court settlement of a contentious lawsuit that accused Ocasio and the VA of religious censorship at the Houston cemetery.
Local veterans and volunteer groups accused Ocasio and other VA officials of banning religious speech — including the words Jesus and God — during funerals and other events at the cemetery. VA denied the allegations, saying that invoking the names of God or Jesus is not only allowed, but common at VA cemeteries across the country.
The parties reached agreement in the case through mediation in September, and a federal judge signed off on a settlement the following month.
Ocasio’s departure is for the best, said Cheryl Whitfield, founder of Houston National Memorial Ladies, one of the volunteer groups that sued the cemetery.
Whitfield says she feels “we’re going to return a lot of the dignity and honor back to the cemetery, and I’m hoping that with all this, the veterans who lie there will get everything that they deserve,” Whitfield said.
Whitfield also says even though their lawsuit was settled in their favor, they're not letting their guard down. "We stood up for what we believe in...We’re not going to be bullied, and if we are, we’re going to make some more noise.”
Most of the time, an out of court settlement means "we didn't do what we're accused of, and we promise we'll never do it again."
A spokesman for the VA says the names of God and Jesus are allowed and freely spoken during interments at national cemeteries across the country.
In a statement published online, Steve Muro, VA Under-Secretary for Memorial Affairs, said “families are free to choose and use the burial rites and rituals that are meaningful or sacred to them....Families are equally free to have a service without religious references.”
Larry Williams, assistant director of Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, will serve as acting director of Houston National Cemetery until a replacement for Ocasio is named.