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Public Statements

Dignified Burial and Other Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. MILLER of Florida. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

S. 3202 is another bipartisan and bicameral product of the House and the Senate Committees on Veterans' Affairs. It's going to improve the lives of veterans and their families.

I want to again thank my colleague, the ranking member, Mr. Michaud, and all the members of the committee and the subcommittees for their advocacy of the provisions of this bill. I also want to thank from the other side of the Capitol complex Senator Murray and Senator Burr for their work on improving these provisions. It's great working with Members who show that, when it comes to veterans issues, both sides can really come together and agree on issues for the common good.

The first title of this bill pertains to cemetery matters, as one of my colleagues has already said. In June of this year, an indigent veteran with no next of kin was buried in a cardboard box in my home State of Florida. I, like many of my colleagues, was shocked and appalled to hear of this news. As a result, several sections of this legislation directly address that specific issue, and it will ensure that all eligible veterans, regardless of their personal or financial situation, will receive a dignified burial at a VA national cemetery. This would include providing VA with the authority to provide a casket, urn, or other acceptable burial container when a veteran has no known next of kin and the VA is unable to provide one.

This legislation would also provide for more efficient communication between VA and local medical examiners and other agencies to ensure that eligible veterans with no next of kin will be properly laid to rest in a national cemetery. It would also require the VA report to Congress on its compliance with industry standards for appropriate burial containers.

Another section of title I, authored by Mr. Culberson of Texas, would direct VA to ensure that any memorial service respects the wishes of a deceased veteran's family to include the use of religious symbols or volunteer honor guards. Given the numerous difficulties many families face when dealing with the death of a loved one, ensuring that their wishes can be honored with a VA memorial service is the least we can do to honor the memory of that veteran.

The bill would also protect the honor of those buried in America's national cemeteries by prohibiting anyone convicted of a tier III sex offense and sentenced to life in prison from being laid to rest there. Because VA national cemeteries are such sacred grounds, it is important that we preserve the honor of those buried there by excluding those convicted of the most heinous of crimes.

This legislation would provide a pathway toward the establishment of the Clark Veterans Cemetery, located in the Philippines, as a permanent cemetery restored, operated, and maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission.

As the American Battle Monuments Commission currently operates and maintains other overseas veterans cemeteries, it is the most appropriate entity to accomplish the important task of honoring our fallen veterans who have been laid to rest at Clark.

Title II of this legislation contains provisions that will enhance our ability to provide for the health care needs of our veterans. It includes a measure which would direct VA, in coordination with the Department of Defense, to establish and maintain an open burn pit registry for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who may have been exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes caused by open burn pits during deployment.

Many of our servicemembers and veterans have returned home from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan with serious questions and grave concerns about the possible long-term health effects of burn pit exposure. It is my hope that by establishing this registry we can provide them the answers and assurances they seek and develop better ways to care for them and future generations of America's warriors.

Under this title, VA would also be authorized to provide transportation services to and from VA facilities for veterans with health care appointments and in connection with vocational rehabilitation or counseling. Veterans who live in rural communities, who are elderly, who are visually impaired, or who are immobile due to disease and disability often face significant challenges in traveling to access services that VA can provide. It is our intent that VA will use this authority to complement, and not replace, existing programs such as the valuable Disabled American Veterans Transportation Network; and as such, this authority is being provided for 1 year.

Title III of the bill would require the Department of Labor to conduct a 2-year pilot program offering Transition Assistance Program training at off-base facilities in three to five States with high rates of unemployment among veterans. With the permission of the Department of Defense, National Guard and Reserve, facilities could be used. Veterans and spouses would be eligible for the program, which would be designed to train those veterans who did not participate in the Active Duty Transition Assistance Program or who just need to refresh their job-hunting skills.

Additionally, this title would require that judges of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims reside within 50 miles of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area during their service. Such a requirement would put the veterans court in line with other Federal courts located in the District, which already have a residency requirement in place.

Finally, this legislation includes four measures to name VA medical facilities in Georgia, Florida, Washington, and Ohio after prominent veterans or civilians who have performed outstanding services to veterans in the communities in which the VA facility is located.

I want to encourage all Members to support the bill as amended.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. MILLER of Florida. Mr. Speaker, once again I encourage all Members to support this legislation.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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