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Senate votes to disinter veteran from national cemetery

Nov. 19, 2013 - 10:12AM   |  
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The remains of an accused murderer, Afghanistan veteran Michael L. Anderson, would be removed from a Michigan veterans’ cemetery under a bill passed Monday night by the Senate.

Anderson, an Army veteran, was buried in 2012 at the Fort Custer National Cemetery just days after a shooting spree at an Indianapolis apartment complex where Anderson allegedly murdered a woman and shot three others before killing himself.

When Anderson was buried, VA officials knew nothing of his alleged involvement in shooting. If they had, there are procedures in law that could have prevented the burial. There is no process, however, to remove remains once buried, which the Senate-passed bill, S 1471, would change.

The Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act, named for the victim, would create a process to reconsider interment decisions if federal officials are presented with “clear and convincing evidence” that a veteran was convicted of a capital crime or committed a capital crime but was not convicted because they were not tried as a result of death or flight from prosecution.

The rule would apply at veterans’ national cemeteries and at Arlington National Cemetery, and could lead to removal of remains as well as memorial headstones or markers.

The bill passed by voice vote.

Before disinterment, the veterans’ next of kin would be given a chance to appeal the decision. If there is no next of kin or the next of kin chooses not to be involved, the cemetery would be responsible for reburial at another location.

The new process would apply to burials or the placing of memorial headstones and markers after the bill becomes law, with one exception: Michael L. Anderson. The bill would order his remains to be removed from the Fort Custer cemetery.

His next of kin could claim the remains for burial elsewhere, or the VA will “arrange for an appropriate disposition,” the bill language states.

“I truly wish the events that prompted the need for this legislation never occurred in the first place,” said Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ill., the chief sponsor of the legislation. “My office and I have been working for more than a year with the Koehl family and the VA to remedy this unacceptable mistake.

“As a veteran myself, I have the deepest respect for those who have worn the uniform to serve our country, but no veteran who commits a state or federal capital crime should be given the honor of a military burial and be laid to rest next to our nation’s heroes,” Coats said.

The bill now goes to the House of Representatives, were similar legislation was introduced earlier this year by members of the Indiana congressional delegation. The House bill does not include provisions for removing Anderson’s remains from the Fort Custer cemetery; that was added to the Senate measure after coordination with the Veterans Affairs Department and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

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