ND delegation-sponsored bill passes, making more service members eligible for burial in veteran cemeteries
The legislation, named the "Burial Equity for Guards and Reserves Act," allows members of the National Guard and reserve to be eligible for burial in state veterans cemeteries without the cemetery losing funds from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
BISMARCK — Federal legislation that allows National Guard and Reserve members to be buried in state veterans cemeteries, which is cosponsored by North Dakota's all-Republican congressional delegation, is expected to be signed into law within days.
Under current regulations, only certain service members are allowed to be buried in state veterans cemeteries if the cemetery receives federal grants. The legislation, named the "Burial Equity for Guards and Reserves Act," allows members of the National Guard and Reserve to be eligible for burial in state veterans cemeteries without the cemetery losing funds from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The U.S. Senate unanimously approved the "Burial Equity" act on Monday, March 7, and it was included in the $1.5 trillion spending package, which the House of Representatives cleared earlier this week. The act is now tacked onto the $1.5 trillion package, which President Joe Biden is expected to sign quickly or face a government shutdown.
"State veterans cemeteries, including ours in North Dakota, allow servicemembers to be laid to rest with honor closer to their homes and loved ones," Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a statement. "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."
For North Dakota specifically, the bill will only affect the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery in Mandan. The Fargo National Cemetery is a federal cemetery, so the new legislation does not apply, said Molly Block, spokesperson for Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.
"This is the absolute right thing to do," Cramer said in a statement. "The brave members of the Reserve and National Guard are heroes who always step up to the plate when duty calls."
In a bipartisan letter sent Senate and House leadership in January, Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., Hoven, Cramer and other lawmakers highlighted the work National Guard members and reservists have done, especially in the past two years.
"[W]e have witnessed thousands of guardsmen and reservists serve their country while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and other domestic emergencies, including natural disasters and civil unrest," lawmakers wrote.
The lawmakers wrote that the current laws restricting the eligibility of National Guard members and reservists to be buried in state veteran cemeteries "fall short of the respect" they have earned from the general public.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Michelle Griffith, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.