Berkley Seeks Requirement That Military Service Members Designate Who Determines Their Final Arrangements
Las Vegas Case Prompts Effort to Require Collection of Data Prior to Combat Missions
(May 4, 2005 - Washington, D.C.) Prompted by the case of a Las Vegas Marine killed in action in Iraq, Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-NV) will introduce legislation today that would require members of the armed services to designate an individual to make final arrangements should they die in the line duty.
"Providing this option to America's armed forces will allow service members to choose for themselves who will determine their final resting place. Those who lay their lives on the line for our nation should decide who makes their final arrangements should they not return from duty. To me this is just common sense and it provides the chance to honor the wishes of our fallen heroes," said Representative Berkley (D-NV) of her efforts which grew out of the Congresswoman's work to assist Las Vegas resident Eleanor Dachtler, whose son Marine Lance Corporal Nicholas Anderson was killed in action in Iraq.
"We already ask those in the military to designate who receives certain financial benefits and the same opportunity should be given to these brave men and women when it comes to funeral arrangements. One simple line on a form can spare families faced with the loss of a loved one from having to also cope with the pain of determining who has final say in decisions involving the disposition of remains," said Berkley.
Berkley cites as an example the Dachtler case, in which the mother of a Las Vegas Marine sought to bury her son in southern Nevada. The father of Lance Corporal Nicholas Anderson also made claim to the Marine's remains and was awarded custody of the body based on standing military policy. As a result, Anderson was buried in California. Berkley aided Dachtler's efforts and as a result of the case, learned about the lack of a current policy requiring service members to specify who handles their final arrangements.
"Eleanor's story opened my eyes to the heartache that has been caused by the gap in current military regulations. As a mother, my heart goes out to all those parents who have lost a loved one in the service of our nation, and anything that can be done to ease the pain of this loss will be a small comfort at a time of great sorrow," said Berkley.
Under current Department of Defense policy, service members are not required to make a determination about disposition of their remains. This policy has led to conflicting claims in the aftermath of a military death, with loved ones fighting for the right to make final arrangements for a fallen soldier, sailor, marine or airman. In cases where there are no clear instructions from the deceased, military policy contains a series of criteria which are applied to make such a determination. In some cases, this has led to lawsuits and bitter family conflict.
"Requiring members of the military to spell out their wishes in advance will provide peace of mind to survivors who will know that it was their loved one, and not a bureaucratic military regulation, who made this very personal decision," said Berkley.