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Bill Would Open State Vet Cemeteries to All Service Members

Vets cemeteries
Vets cemeteries
Washington Report

Bipartisan legislation under consideration in both chambers of Congress would ensure every National Guardsman and Reservist is eligible to be buried in state veterans cemeteries — as long as their service was not terminated under dishonorable conditions.

Currently, only certain service members who meet national eligibility standards are allowed to be buried in veterans’ cemeteries if that cemetery receives federal grant funding.

The Burial Equity for Guards and Reserves Act (S. 2089 and H.R. 3944) corrects that by prohibiting the Department of Veterans Affairs from conditioning such grants on a cemetery’s compliance with existing national eligibility criteria for burial.

That criteria allows Guardsmen to be buried in a veterans cemetery only if they met their legal minimum active-duty service, died during training or as a result of injury or illness sustained during training, or served the 20 years required for retirement pay.

Sen.  Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., introduced the bill in the Senate. It is co-sponsored by Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H., is leading the legislation in the House, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Annie Kuster. D-N.H., and Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss.

Palazzo is a drilling Guardsman and the co-chair of the House National Guard and Reserve Caucus.   

The bill passed the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee late last year. It now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

“Every American who honorably served our country in the military should be eligible for burial in state veterans’ cemeteries beside their brothers and sisters in arms — this shouldn’t even be up for debate,” Shaheen said. “I’m pleased to see the Senate take a critical step to make that a reality by advancing my bipartisan bill to extend equal burial rights to Guard members and Reservists.”

First introduced in 2020, the Burial Equity for Guards and Reserves Act was updated in 2021 to:

  • Ensure that the VA cannot limit plot allowances provided to state veterans cemeteries if they choose to bury the individuals specified in the legislation; and
  • Allow children of those eligible for burial to be buried in a state veterans’ cemetery as well if they choose.

NGAUS supports the legislation.