Directors & Under Secretaries for Memorial Affairs, 1973 to Present - National Cemetery Administration
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National Cemetery Administration


Directors & Under Secretaries for Memorial Affairs, 1973 to Present

Robin L. Higgins, Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs
Department of Veterans Affairs

Robin L. Higgins Robin L. Higgins served as Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs from May 24, 2001, through September 1, 2002, as an appointee of President George W. Bush. During her tenure, Fort Sill National Cemetery opened in Oklahoma, and four new state veteran cemeteries opened in Colorado, Georgia, Montana and Maine.

Prior to her nomination, Higgins had been the Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs since 1999. She served as Deputy Assistant Secretary and Acting Assistant Secretary for Veterans’ Employment and Training at the U.S. Department of Labor, 1988 to 1991. While there, she served on the Department of Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Women Veterans and the Defense Department’s Defense Conversion Commission.

A native of the Bronx, N.Y., Higgins earned her bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Oneonta, and a master’s degree from C.W. Post College of Long Island University. She also studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In May 2003 she was granted an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from SUNY.

Higgins, a 20-year veteran of the Marine Corps, retired as a lieutenant colonel. She is the widow of Col. William “Rich” Higgins, a Marine officer captured by terrorists in Lebanon in 1988, and later murdered. Since then, she has become an internationally known speaker on surviving adversity and terrorism. Her book, Patriot Dreams, The Murder of Colonel Rich Higgins was published in time for the commissioning of the USS Higgins(DDG 76), a Navy destroyer named for her husband. Higgins is the recipient of numerous awards, including the VA’s Exceptional Service Award, Marine Corps League’s Dickey Chapelle Award, American Legion Auxiliary’s Public Spirit Award, and American Academy of Physician Assistants’ Veterans Caucus Award.

John W. “Jack” Nicholson, Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs
National Cemetery Administration
Department of Veterans Affairs

John W. “Jack” Nicholson John W. “Jack” Nicholson served as Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs from April 11, 2003, until January 19, 2005, as an appointee of President George W. Bush. Nicholson directed the National Cemetery Administration as the organization began implementing its largest expansion since the Civil War. Planning and construction began on 11 new cemeteries in areas across the United States identified as having the largest populations of veterans requiring burial options. Nine new state veteran cemeteries opened in Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts and Virginia, and two each in Kansas and Missouri.

Nicholson’s top priorities were to provide the very best possible care and service to veterans and their families, and to achieve National Shrine Commitment standards of appearance at all national and state veterans’ cemeteries. The Organizational Assessment and Improvement Program was created to assess progress in achieving shrine status, enhanced operations, and superior customer service. NCA opened a National Training Center in St. Louis to provide standardized instruction for NCA employees. As Nicholson’s tenure drew to a close in 2004, VA National Cemeteries received the highest American Customer Satisfaction Index score ever received by a private organization or federal agency. General Nicholson departed NCA in January 2005 when President Bush named him as Secretary of the American Battle Monuments Commission.

Nicholson graduated in 1956 from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., where he received the General MacArthur Leadership Award for his class. He was an airborne ranger combat infantryman and served two and one-half years with infantry units in Vietnam. Nicholson was a President Reagan appointee to Strategic Arms negotiations in Geneva, Switzerland, from 1982 to 1984. Other overseas assignments during his career included duty in Germany, Korea, and Lebanon. He received several U.S. and foreign awards and decorations for valor and service. He retired from the U.S. Army after 30 years active duty with the rank Brigadier General.


William F. Tuerk, Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs
National Cemetery Administration
Department of Veterans Affairs

William F. Tuerk William F. Tuerk served as Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs from October 28, 2005, through January 19, 2009, serving under President George W. Bush. Prior to his appointment, he served on the staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. From 1991 to 2005, he held a variety of positions on the committee, including General Counsel, Chief Counsel and Staff Director, and was responsible for legal, legislative and policy activities. Tuerk entered public service in 1985 as a career employee on the legal staff of the VA Office of General Counsel. He practiced law prior to that, with a specialty in petroleum regulation, the environment and aviation.

During Tuerk’s tenure, NCA saw an unprecedented expansion of the cemetery system, with 10 new national cemeteries dedicated from Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina and Florida to Pennsylvania, Michigan and California. During this same period, 11 new state veteran cemeteries were established to provide burial space for veterans living in less densely populated regions of the country.

In 2007, the National Cemetery Administration earned a customer satisfaction rating of 95 out of a possible 100 points in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) survey conducted by the University of Michigan. This was the second time that NCA earned a score of 95 – the highest rating in customer satisfaction ever received by a federal agency or private corporation, as recorded by ACSI.

An Army veteran, Mr. Tuerk served as a military policeman from 1971 to 1973. He received his bachelor’s degree in government from the University of Notre Dame in 1971, and his law degree from George Washington University in 1978.