March 07, 2018

Udall, Tester, Heller Welcome Senate Passage of Bill to Fix Disparity in Native American Veterans’ Burial Benefits

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, welcomed Senate passage of S. 2248, a bill to provide parity to Tribal Veterans Cemeteries. The bill would change current law to provide headstones upon request as a burial benefit for veterans and their spouses, surviving spouses, and dependent children interred in a Tribal veterans’ cemetery.

Along with Udall, the legislation was led by Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev.).

“We owe a solemn debt to these men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country and I applaud Senator Tester’s leadership to correct this disparity,” Udall said. “Native Americans serve in the military in greater numbers per capita than any other group, and we have a moral responsibility to ensure that they receive the same benefits as any other service member.”

“Native Americans have signed up to serve our country at a historically high rate and their families deserve an eternal testament to their bravery, service and sacrifice,” said Tester. “No one should be forced to choose between honoring their loved one’s service or resting in peace together. I urge the House of Representatives to quickly pass this bipartisan legislation and do right by veterans who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.”

“A veteran’s final resting place is hallowed ground as it serves as a permanent reminder of the sacrifices made by those who have defended our country. That’s why I continue to fight for burial policies that rightfully honor and pay tribute to these brave men and women,” said Heller. “As a strong supporter of ensuring veterans and their families can access the benefits and care they’ve earned, I’m proud to work with my colleagues to ensure both our nation’s tribal veterans and their loved ones receive the honorable burial that they deserve.”

Tribal veterans’ cemeteries are similar to veterans’ cemeteries operated by the federal government and state governments. However, a technical issue in the current statute authorizing the provision of burial benefits to veterans and their families prevents the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from providing headstones for the families of those interred in a Tribal veterans’ cemetery.

There are currently 11 Tribal Veterans Cemeteries in six states that are eligible for programs administered by the VA’s National Cemetery Administration.

Following Senate passage, S. 2248 now goes to the House of Representatives for consideration.