01-04-13

Veterans Burials, Clark AFB Cemetery and Burn Pit Legislation

The House and Senate recently approved the “Dignified Burial and Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act” (S. 3202) that authorizes the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to furnish a casket or urn for a deceased veteran when VA is unable to identify the veteran’s next-of-kin and determines that sufficient resources are not otherwise available to provide for proper burial in a national cemetery.  Sponsored by former Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) Chairwoman Senator Patty Murray (Wash.), the legislation addresses concerns that existing law does not authorize the VA purchase caskets or urns for vets without next of kin.

Last year Chairwoman Murray and SVAC Ranking Member Richard Burr (N.C.) joined Senators Bill Nelson (Fla.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) in introducing this legislation after it was discovered that a veteran with no known next-of-kin was buried in a cardboard container at a VA National Cemetery in Florida.  

The bill is expected to be signed into law by the President and includes provisions from the FRA-supported “Remembering America’s Forgotten Veterans Cemetery Act” (S. 2320) sponsored by Senator Kelly Ayotti (N.H.) that would authorize the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) to operate and maintain the Clark Air Force Base Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines.

The legislation would also establish a registry for those veterans exposed to open burn pits while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and commissions an independent scientific report on the health effects of such exposures.  Additionally, the bill will expand access to VA services by furnishing veterans with transportation to and from VA facilities and provide transition assistance (TAP) to eligible veterans and their spouses outside of military installations.