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Witness Testimony of The Honorable Steven Stivers, U.S. House of Representatives

I want to thank Chairman Runyan for holding this important legislative hearing today on my bipartisan legislation, the Honor Those Who Served Act.  The measure before the committee today will make it easier to provide headstones or markers for veterans who currently do not have a headstone and lay in an unmarked grave.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued a rule change that required ‘Next of Kin’ (NOK) be notified before a veteran received an initial headstone from the VA.  Previously, the VA accepted and processed headstone claims from funeral directors, cemetery officials, county veterans service officers, researchers and other civic organizations.

This new regulatory barrier of obtaining the approval from the NOK to receive a headstone for a deceased veteran  is making it more difficult to honor the sacrifice of our veterans.

There are researchers, like those at the Ohio Historical Society, who research archives, death records, military records and genealogical records to determine the identity of Revolutionary and Civil War soldiers buried in unmarked graves.  These groups then work to find the NOK.  But, sometimes this is not possible when today’s headstone applicants are seven generations removed from the Civil War, for example.

I understand the rational of the rule to make sure family members are not left out of the decision-making process for obtaining a headstone, but the current rule is too restrictive and service members – especially Civil War era African American soldiers are left with unmarked graves.

Those who served in the military deserve our full-support, especially those who gave the final measure of devotion to our great nation.  Our veterans, regardless of what era they served in, deserve better than unmarked or deteriorated graves.

That is why on May 16, 2013, I introduced H.R. 2018 that would stipulate that if NOK cannot be found then headstone applications may be filed with the VA by: the state veterans service agency, military researchers, local historians, genealogists, or others familiar with research sources or methods needed to prove a veteran’s identity.

In his second inaugural speech, President Abraham Lincoln stated, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and orphan,” affirming the government’s obligation to honor those who serve our nation.  These words of Lincoln’s became the VA’s motto in 1959.

Those who gave the final measure in their service to our great nation deserve a final resting place with a headstone worthy of their dedication, commitment and devotion.

Again, I appreciate the Chairman for allowing me to testify today and holding this hearing.