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The Veterans Affairs Department has announced new burial rules to make parents of some deceased veterans eligible for interment in national veterans cemeteries.
The policy, announced Tuesday in a notice in the Federal Register, implements the Corey Shea Act, passed by Congress in 2010 as part of a comprehensive veterans benefits bill that allows parents to be buried alongside a service member who had no surviving spouse or children at the time of death. No more than two parents could be buried alongside a veteran, meaning plots could not be used for two parents plus an adoptive stepparent, for example.
The bill is named for http://www.militarytimes.com/valor/army-spc-corey-m-shea/3824441">Army Spc. Corey M. Shea, who died in Iraq on Nov. 12, 2008. He was 21 years old when he was shot by an Iraqi army soldier, and his mother, Denise Anderson, pressed Congress to allow her to be buried alongside her son when she dies. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., were chief sponsors of the legislation that expanded the burial benefit to include parents who would otherwise not be able to be interred.
In tearful testimony before the House Veterans Affairs Committee in 2009, Anderson said her son "was not married nor did he have any dependents" when he died. "He did not have time, since, like I said, he was a child himself."
There are several limitations:
• Parental burial privileges apply only for service members killed by hostile fire or in certain training accidents since Oct. 7, 2001. Hostile fire, in this instance, excludes a service member who died of a self-inflicted wound, from combat fatigue or due to the elements. Training accidents cover only injuries incurred while performing authorized training in preparation for a combat mission.
• At the time of death, the service member must not have had a spouse or child buried in a national veterans' cemetery or a spouse or child who might be eligible for burial in a national cemetery, unless burial would be through their own eligibility. This leaves open the possibility that a spouse or child might have earned benefits in their own right from military service or because of a relationship with another eligible service member or veteran.
• Burial rights for any parent will depend on the availability of space, not only in the cemetery but at the specific gravesite.
• VA's rules say eligibility is limited to the biological or legally adoptive parents of a deceased veteran, but it can never be more than two parents. Stating the obvious, the rule says there can be only two biological parents. But an adoptive parent "may be eligible for interment in place of a biological parent but not in addition to a biological parent," the rules say. There is no explanation for how VA would handle an instance where both adoptive and biological parents request burial, other than to say eligibility ends after two parents are buried.