Measure passes Senate, moves on to House

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FARMINGTON — A federal bill seeks to extend an aspect of burial benefits for Native American veterans provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Senate Bill 2248 proposes that the distribution of headstones upon request be provided to spouses and dependent children of veterans interred in tribal veterans cemeteries operated or funded by the VA's National Cemetery Administration.

There are 11 tribal veterans cemeteries — located in Arizona, California, Maine, Montana, Oklahoma and South Dakota — that are eligible for programs administered by the VA's National Cemetery Administration.

The two cemeteries in Arizona are the San Carlos Apache Tribal Veterans Cemetery in San Carlos and the Monte Calvario Cemetery in Tucson.

The bill, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., was passed by the Senate this month.

It moved to the House of Representatives on March 5 for consideration there.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., are cosponsors of the Senate bill.

"We owe a solemn debt to these men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country, and I applaud Sen. Tester's leadership to correct this disparity," Udall said in a press release from his office.

The Navajo Nation has a community veterans cemetery in Fort Defiance, Arizona, and several cemeteries in communities on the reservation designate areas for the burial of veterans.

Ned Adriance, a spokesman for Udall, said the federal proposal does not address any benefits for community cemeteries specifically or for interment in burial sites on family land.

Adriance added the VA website indicates that the VA will furnish, on request, a government headstone or marker for any deceased eligible veteran in any cemetery, regardless of location.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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