CRAIG'S BILL ENCOURAGES STATES TO DEVELOP PROGRAM TO BURY UNCLAIMED REMAINS OF VETERANS
U.S. Senator Larry Craig introduced legislation (S. 1266) on Wednesday which would encourage states to develop programs to find and provide a dignified burial to veterans whose remains have gone unclaimed. The program was originally developed in Craig's home state of Idaho and he wants to see the effort expanded nationwide.
"Over one thousand veterans have been interred in the Idaho State Cemetery since it opened in 2004. Of those, 91 were interred through a program pioneered in Idaho called Missing in America,'" said Craig, the top Republican at the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
"Through the Missing in America program, Idaho cemetery officials, working with veterans' organizations and others, have actively sought to locate the unclaimed cremated remains of veterans throughout the state. They contacted funeral homes, county coroner offices, and any other place where those remains may have been located. Remarkably, they discovered the remains of 91 veterans. After verifying eligibility, all 91 were given a dignified burial."
Under Craig's bill, the Veterans' Dignified Burial Assistance Act of 2007, those states which locate and bury such remains in a state veterans' cemetery would be provided with financial assistance by the federal government. Current federal law only allows VA to provide assistance to states if the remains are buried within two years of cremation.
"This doesn't make sense," Craig said. "My legislation would waive the two-year limit and encourage states to give veterans what is long overdue: a fitting burial."
The Missing in America program got started after an inventory of a crematorium discovered two urns in a closet storage facility in Idaho. The urns contained the unclaimed remains of Sgt. Richard Trueman, a veteran of the Korean conflict and his wife, Martha.
"Sgt. Trueman earned two Purple Hearts and later died in 1979, but his remains sat unclaimed in a storage room for 27 years. Fortunately he and his wife received a dignified interment, just like every veteran should," Craig said.
In addition to encouraging states to locate and bury the remains of forgotten veterans, Craig's bill would also increase VA's plot allowance benefit from $300 to $400 - the first increase since 2001 when it was raised from $150 to $300. The legislation would authorize $5 million per year under VA's State Cemetery Grant Program for VA to assist states in meeting operational and maintenance expenses.