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ICYMI: Heeding Calls from Shaheen & Bipartisan Group of Senators, Bill to Open Eligibility for Burial in State Veterans Cemeteries to All Service Members Heads to President’s Desk

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and John Hoeven (R-ND) issued the following statements after the Senate passed their bipartisan legislation to allow all members of the Reserve Component and the National Guard to be buried in state veterans cemeteries. The legislation will now head to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

This has long been a priority for this bipartisan group of Senators. Earlier this week, the Senate unanimously passed the bill and the group called on Senate and House leadership to pass the bill, the Burial Equity for Guards and Reserves Act, following their letter in January, which was also signed by Representatives Chris Pappas (NH-01) and Annie Kuster (NH-02).

“All those who serve our nation in uniform should be recognized and celebrated for their service on equal standing, including burial in state veterans cemeteries. Yet Reservists and National Guard members in New Hampshire and around the nation have not been treated with the same respect and honor as their fellow service members who are laid to rest,” said Senator Shaheen. “I am pleased that Congress has finally taken steps to right this wrong and I look forward to seeing the President sign this commonsense legislation into law to recognize the service of our Reservists and National Guard members, and provide their communities and families a public space to celebrate their lives.”

“This is the absolute right thing to do. The brave members of the Reserve and National Guard are heroes who always step up to the plate when duty calls. This new law will ensure state veterans’ cemeteries will not be punished by Washington bureaucrats if they choose to bury these men and women,” said Senator Cramer. 

“All National Guard and Reserve members who make sacrifices in service to our country should be able to be buried in state veterans cemeteries,” said Senator Hassan. “That’s why we came together in a bipartisan manner to pass the Burial Equity for Guard and Reserves Act. I will continue working to make sure that all those who serve our country receive the care and honor that they have more than earned.”

“State veterans cemeteries, including ours in North Dakota, allow servicemembers to be laid to rest with honor closer to their homes and loved ones,” said Senator Hoeven. “Once signed into law, our bill will allow National Guard and Reserve members to be buried in state veterans cemeteries without the cemetery losing access to VA grants. Our bill is one important way to honor their service, and comes as part of our broader efforts to ensure they receive the recognition and benefits that they have earned through their vital contributions to the security of our nation.”

Currently, only Guard members and Reservists who have been called to Active Duty are allowed to be buried in veterans cemeteries if the cemeteries receive federal grant funding through the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Veterans Cemetery Grants Program– including the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen. These eligibility restrictions on state cemeteries fail to appropriately acknowledge the contributions of National Guard members and Reservists who have dedicated their lives in service of our nation.  Moreover, the VA’s existing practice punishes state veterans’ cemeteries that bury the spouses, minor children, or unmarried adult children of those service members by conditioning federal grants on a state cemetery’s compliance with existing federal burial eligibility criteria.

The Burial Equity for Guards and Reserves Act corrects that by prohibiting the VA from conditioning such grants on a cemetery’s compliance with existing eligibility criteria for burial. Last year, the lawmakers sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) calling on the VA to implement these reforms to the Veterans Cemetery Grants Program. 

First introduced in 2020, the Burial Equity for Guards and Reserves Act will:

  • Ensure all members of Reserve components and the National Guard are eligible to be buried in state veterans cemeteries – so long as their service was not terminated under dishonorable conditions;
  • Allow children of those eligible for burial to be buried in a state veterans cemetery as well if they choose;
  • Ensure that the VA cannot limit plot allowances provided to state veterans cemeteries if they choose to bury the individuals specified in the legislation.

Representative Chris Pappas, a member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, led the legislation in the House, which was cosponsored by Representatives Annie Kuster and Steven Palazzo (MS-04). 

Full text of the bill is available here