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Jeff M.
Republican FL 1

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  • Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act

    by Representative Jeff Miller

    Posted on 2013-12-11

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    MILLER of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and pass the bill (S. 1471) to 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, and for other purposes.



    The Clerk read the title of the bill.

    The text of the bill is as follows: S. 1471 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

    This Act may be cited as the ``Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act''.

    SEC. 2. AUTHORITY TO RECONSIDER DECISIONS OF SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS OR SECRETARY OF THE ARMY TO INTER THE REMAINS OR HONOR THE MEMORY OF A PERSON IN A NATIONAL CEMETERY.

    (a) Authority To Reconsider Prior Decisions.--Section 2411 of title 38, United States Code, is amended-- (1) by redesignating subsection (d) as subsection (f); and (2) by inserting after subsection (c) the following new subsections: ``(d)(1) In a case described in subsection (e), the appropriate Federal official may reconsider a decision to-- ``(A) inter the remains of a person in a cemetery in the National Cemetery Administration or in Arlington National Cemetery; or ``(B) honor the memory of a person in a memorial area in a cemetery in the National Cemetery Administration (described in section 2403(a) of this title) or in such an area in Arlington National Cemetery (described in section 2409(a) of this title).

    ``(2)(A)(i) In a case described in subsection (e)(1)(A), the appropriate Federal official shall provide notice to the deceased person's next of kin or other person authorized to arrange burial or memorialization of the deceased person of the decision of the appropriate Federal official to disinter the remains of the deceased person or to remove a memorial headstone or marker memorializing the deceased person.

    ``(ii) In a case described in subsection (e)(1)(B), if the appropriate Federal official finds, based upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence and after an opportunity for a hearing in a manner prescribed by the appropriate Federal official, that the person had committed a Federal capital crime or a State capital crime but had not been convicted of such crime by reason of such person not being available for trial due to death or flight to avoid prosecution, the appropriate Federal official shall provide notice to the deceased person's next of kin or other person authorized to arrange burial or memorialization of the deceased person of the decision of the appropriate Federal official to disinter the remains of the deceased person or to remove a memorial headstone or marker memorializing the deceased person.

    ``(B) Notice under subparagraph (A) shall be provided by the appropriate Federal official as follows: ``(i) By the Secretary in accordance with section 5104 of this title.

    ``(ii) By the Secretary of Defense in accordance with such regulations as the Secretary of Defense shall prescribe for purposes of this subsection.

    ``(3)(A) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the next of kin or other person authorized to arrange burial or memorialization of the deceased person shall be allowed a period of 60 days from the date of the notice required by paragraph (2) to file a notice of disagreement with the Federal official that provided the notice.

    ``(B)(i) A notice of disagreement filed with the Secretary under subparagraph (A) shall be treated as a notice of disagreement filed under section 7105 of this title and shall initiate appellate review in accordance with the provisions of chapter 71 of this title.

    ``(ii) A notice of disagreement filed with the Secretary of Defense under subparagraph (A) shall be decided in accordance with such regulations as the Secretary of Defense shall prescribe for purposes of this subsection.

    ``(4) When the decision of the appropriate Federal official to disinter the remains or remove a memorial headstone or marker of the deceased person becomes final either by failure to appeal the decision in accordance with paragraph (3)(A) or by final disposition of the appeal pursuant to paragraph (3)(B), the appropriate Federal official may take any of the following actions: ``(A) Disinter the remains of the person from the cemetery in the National Cemetery Administration or in Arlington National Cemetery and provide for the reburial or other appropriate disposition of the disinterred remains in a place other than a cemetery in the National Cemetery Administration or in Arlington National Cemetery.

    ``(B) Remove from a memorial area in a cemetery in the National Cemetery Administration or in Arlington National Cemetery any memorial headstone or marker placed to honor the memory of the person.

    [[Page H7641]] ``(e)(1) A case described in this subsection is a case in which the appropriate federal official receives-- ``(A) written notice of a conviction referred to in subsection (b)(1), (b)(2), or (b)(4) of a person described in paragraph (2); or ``(B) information that a person described in paragraph (2) may have committed a Federal capital crime or a State capital crime but was not convicted of such crime by reason of such person not being available for trial due to death or flight to avoid prosecution.

    ``(2) A person described in this paragraph is a person-- ``(A) whose remains have been interred in a cemetery in the National Cemetery Administration or in Arlington National Cemetery; or ``(B) whose memory has been honored in a memorial area in a cemetery in the National Cemetery Administration or in such an area in Arlington National Cemetery.''.

    (b) Modification of Exception To Interment or Memorialization Prohibition.--Subsection (a)(2) of such section is amended by striking ``such official approves an application for''.

    (c) Applicability.--The amendments made by this section shall apply with respect to any interment or memorialization conducted by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs or the Secretary of the Army in a cemetery in the National Cemetery Administration or in Arlington National Cemetery after the date of the enactment of this Act.

    SEC. 3. DISINTERMENT OF REMAINS OF MICHAEL LASHAWN ANDERSON FROM FORT CUSTER NATIONAL CEMETERY.

    (a) Disinterment of Remains.--The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall disinter the remains of Michael LaShawn Anderson from Fort Custer National Cemetery.

    (b) Notification of Next-of-Kin.--The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall-- (1) notify the next-of-kin of record for Michael LaShawn Anderson of the impending disinterment of his remains; and (2) upon disinterment, relinquish the remains to the next- of-kin of record for Michael LaShawn Anderson or, if the next-of-kin of record for Michael LaShawn Anderson is unavailable, arrange for an appropriate disposition of the remains.

    The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Miller) and the gentleman from Maine (Mr. Michaud) each will control 20 minutes.

    The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Florida.

    General Leave Mr. MILLER of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members have 5 legislative days within which to revise and extend their remarks and add any extraneous material and include that material on S. 1471.

    The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Florida? There was no objection.

    {time} 1245 Mr. MILLER of Florida. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

    I rise today in support of S. 1471, the Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act. This bill would grant authority to the Department of Veterans Affairs to reconsider the decision to inter or memorialize an individual within a national cemetery in situations where it is later discovered that the deceased committed a capital crime.

    Currently, section 2411 of title 38, United States Code, prohibits the interment or memorialization of persons who committed a Federal or State capital crime. Nonetheless, situations have arisen where the entity, such as a funeral home, or the individual who is charged with scheduling the interment or memorialization of a decedent either does not know of the decedent's crime or does not truthfully report such crime to Federal cemetery officials.

    In situations where a funeral home had no knowledge that a decedent was involved in a capital crime at the time of the burial request, VA actually lacks the statutory authority to reconsider interment or memorialization decisions. Simply put, individuals who are buried or memorialized within national cemeteries cannot be disinterred on the basis of subsequently received information.

    Mr. Speaker, S. 1471 would provide this authority to VA, as well as to the Department of Defense, in the case of Arlington National Cemetery.

    VA supports this bill, as it would provide the Department with the ability to redress interment cases where eligibility is invalidated by information that is learned after a burial.

    This bill would also specifically direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to disinter the remains of Michael Lashawn Anderson from Fort Custer National Cemetery, as it was Mr. Anderson who murdered Alicia Dawn Koehl prior to taking his own life. In that case, the funeral home charged with Mr. Anderson's burial was unaware of the incident. Thus they did not properly report the crime, and Fort Custer National Cemetery provided the military funeral.

    The interment of Mr. Anderson was brought to the attention of the Indiana congressional delegation; and I want to thank my colleague from Indiana (Mrs. Brooks) for highlighting this tragic incident and for offering companion legislation to S. 1471. I also want to thank our colleagues in the Senate for addressing this need and for passing S. 1471. I encourage all of my colleagues to support this legislation.

    At this time, I reserve the balance of my time.

    Mr. MICHAUD. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

    I support this legislation to allow the VA or the Secretary of the Army to reconsider their decisions to inter individuals at our Veterans National Cemeteries, to include Arlington National Cemetery. With this legislation, individuals who may have committed a Federal or State capital crime, but were not convicted by reason of unavailability for trial due to death or flight to avoid prosecution, may be considered for disinterment.

    Being buried in our national cemeteries is one of the highest honors our Nation bestows upon veterans and their dependents for their service and sacrifice.

    This legislation also closes a loophole in the current law. Currently, veterans and their dependents who have been convicted of capital crimes may not be buried in Arlington National Cemetery or any national cemetery. If there is a mistake and they are inappropriately buried in one of these cemeteries, the Army and/or VA cannot correct the mistake. This legislation would correct this issue and allow the Secretaries of the Army and the VA to reconsider the original interment and exhume the body for interment elsewhere.

    Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to support this legislation, and I reserve the balance of my time.

    Mr. MILLER of Florida. Mr. Speaker, at this time, I yield such time as she may consume to the gentlewoman from Indiana (Mrs. Brooks), the Member who brought this matter to the committee's attention.

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