Bill also includes provisions to improve veterans' benefits, including transportation assistance and the creation of a burn pit registry
Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, applauded Senate passage of the Dignified Burial and Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012. This House and Senate-negotiated package contains proposals from Democrats and Republicans in both Chambers.
The legislation includes provisions from Chairman Murray's original bill to authorize the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to furnish a casket or urn to 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 furnish a casket or urn for burial in a national cemetery. Under current law, VA is not authorized to purchase a casket or urn for veterans who do not have a next-of-kin to provide one, or the resources to be buried in an appropriate manner. Earlier this year Chairman Murray and Ranking Member Burr, joined by U.S. Senators Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), introduced this legislation after a veteran, with no known next-of-kin, was buried in a cardboard container at a VA National Cemetery in Florida. The exposed remains were discovered during a project to raise and realign headstones at the cemetery.
The Dignified Burial and Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2012 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. The legislation would expand and protect access to VA services by furnishing eligible veterans with transportation to and from VA facilities and provide transition assistance to eligible veterans and their spouses outside of military installations.
"When America's heroes make a commitment to serve their country, we make a promise to care for them," said Chairman Murray, following passage of the bill. "That includes helping them access VA facilities and providing them with a burial befitting their service."
The House and Senate-negotiated package also includes authority for restoration of the Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines and renames several VA facilities across the country, including the Spokane VA Medical Center, in honor of veterans and individuals who have made extraordinary contributions to veterans, to their communities, and to their country. The bill will now move on to the House of Representatives.