Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Submission For The Record of Congressman Steve Daines
As a cosponsor of H.R. 2018, The Honor Those Who Served Act, I believe it is critical that Congress passes this legislation to ensure that our veterans are provided with the honor and respect they deserve. I thank Chairman Runyan and Ranking Member Titus for holding a hearing on this important legislation.
Last year, some very troubling stories came to my attention from my state of Montana. At the Yellowstone County Veteran’s Cemetery in Laurel, Montana, four recently buried veterans did not a grave marker. In each of these cases all of the proper proof of service was presented but they were denied. The VA explained that with the exception of state or national cemeteries, all requests for a headstone must be signed by the veteran or the veteran’s next of kin.
I understand we want to fulfill the wishes of veterans and make sure their final resting place does not include any markings that the veteran would not want. But surely we should not have a policy so inflexible that it essentially prohibits well-meaning veterans groups and historians from honoring veterans who may be unaware of the rigid VA requirements.
Furthermore, veteran groups such as Missing in America and The Patriot Guard Riders stand ready to honor fallen veterans and have done so in the past. But because of the current VA policy, they can no longer provide a headstone to help honor the service and sacrifices of our veterans.
But perhaps most compelling, there are an estimated two hundred thousand homeless veterans, and the current VA policy is especially detrimental to those veterans who had no close family members to claim them when they passed. The Honor Those Who Served Act would be significant step forward in addressing this wrong and would help ensure that no veteran is left without an appropriate and respectful headstone honoring their commitment and service to our country.
While I sincerely appreciate the VA’s efforts in resolving the situation with the four deceased Montana veterans, it does not change the fact that it took months for the VA to correct these injustices and that the core flaws of the VA policy remain in place. And although the VA says it is working to adjust its policy, Congress cannot presume that any pending VA revisions will either be sufficient or finalized in a timely manner.
For these reasons, I strongly support The Honor Those Who Served Act, and I will continue to do everything I can to enact this commonsense legislation.