ICCFA testifies before Congress for restoration of burial benefits
by ICCFA General Counsel Robert M. Fells, Esq.
On July 31, the ICCFA testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans Affairs, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, to urge swift Congressional action on H.R.1273.
This bill was introduced by Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV), at the ICCFA's request, to restore the plot allowance and marker cash reimbursement allowance for veterans who choose interment in private, religious and municipal cemeteries. ICCFA General Counsel Bob Fells represented the association as its witness. The bill is now supported by various veterans service organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the Paralyzed Veterans of America.
When the VA's National Cemetery Administration was formally organized in 1973 as the result of Public Law 93-43, Congress implicitly acknowledged that national cemeteries did not operate in a vacuum but complemented other forms of burial that used resources in private, religious and municipal cemeteries.
The ICCFA was instrumental in having that law include a provision authorizing a plot allowance (then $150) to benefit the majority of veterans and their families who preferred interment in non-government cemeteries. This plot allowance was also viewed as a means to offset demands on national cemeteries and as recognition of the personal, religious and ethnic preferences of veterans.
Subsequent legislation established additional forms of burial assistance, such as the marker allowance, to further avoid a forced reliance on national cemeteries. The popular and cost-effective plot and marker burial benefits were used by the majority of veterans and their families from the mid-1970s until 1990, when Congress abruptly curtailed the plot allowance and eliminated the marker allowance. The ICCFA estimated that up to 70 percent of the veterans who were eligible to receive these two benefits were disqualified when Congress changed the requirements in 1990.
Since then, the ICCFA believes, many veterans have been forced to opt for interment in national or state veterans' cemeteries when they would have preferred burial in non-governmental cemeteries for personal, religious or ethnic reasons.
The plot and marker allowances also resulted in long-term cost savings for taxpayers by eliminating the ongoing costs of maintaining the graves in national cemeteries in perpetuity when veterans opt for burial elsewhere. Unlike the private sector, national cemeteries do not have care and maintenance trust funds but rely on annual appropriations by Congress to meet their needs.
The ICCFA urges members to contact their congressional representatives and ask them to support H.R. 1273 by becoming bill co-sponsors.