Senate passes bill allowing VA to disinter criminals

The Senate passed a bill Monday that would allow the Department of Veterans Affairs to unbury military service members in national cemeteries if they committed a capital crime.

Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) introduced the Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act after Koehl she was shot by a service member. Michael Anderson was buried at Fort Custer National Cemetery, but Coats argued he shouldn’t have been since existing law prohibits anyone convicted of a federal or state capital crime from receiving a military honor burial. 

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The cemetery claimed they couldn’t disinter Anderson’s remains because he wasn’t officially convicted since he shot himself after committing the crime. Coats’ bill corrects that technicality.

“No veteran who commits a capital crime should be given the right to a military honor burial … to ensure that our fallen veterans can rest in peace … not next to criminals who commit such a heinous crime,” Coats said Monday.

S. 1471 would authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Secretary of the Army to reconsider decisions to inter or honor the memory of a person in a national cemetery if the person may have committed a federal or state capital crime but was not convicted by reason of unavailability for trial due to death or flight to avoid prosecution. The bill passed through a unanimous consent agreement Monday evening and now head to the House for further action.

The Senate also passed S. 1545, the PEPFAR Stewardship and Oversight Act, which would extends U.S. and global HIV/AIDS programs through fiscal year 2018. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) sponsored that bill, which also passed through a unanimous consent agreement.