WASHINGTON — Lawmakers want promises from the National Park Service that veterans can take pictures at war memorials without getting harassed over permit issues.
In a letter to service officials this week, a pair of House Veterans’ Affairs Committee members — Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., and Mike Bost, R-Ill. — asked for clarification of parks rules and handling of past complaints from veterans groups over conflicts with parks personnel.
“We both agree that no veteran deserves to be treated with disrespect while visiting a memorial dedicated to the memory of the men and women who gave their lives for our country,” the letter states. “These veterans are simply trying to pay their respects to our fallen heroes, their comrades, and to feel that their own service to our nation is appreciated.”
The complaints stem from last fall, during a legislative hearing before the committee’s memorial affairs panel, which Bost chairs. Veterans of Foreign Wars said they have received several reports of large groups of Honor Flight veterans being asked for event permits by national parks personnel when they gather for tours of the war monuments along the National Mall.
John Towles, deputy director of the VFW’s national legislative service, said the interactions left the veterans involved feeling disrespected and pressured into getting permits for future photo-ops.
“If they’re going to start charging for veterans to take photos at the (Vietnam) Wall, it’s unfortunate,” he said.
At the time, Esty and Bost called those moves completely inappropriate. The letter asks for clarification of parks rules and information on “what the National Park Service has done to make sure that all veterans’ groups visiting the National Mall are aware of any permitting requirements” for the sites.
Parks officials have not yet responded to the request.
According to park service statistics, more than 25 million people visit the National Mall in Washington, D.C. each year. The site includes the national World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial along with the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
The site is especially popular for Honor Flight events, which bring aging veterans from across the country to Washington, D.C. for one- or two-day visits to tour those war memorials and other notable regional sites, like Arlington National Cemetery.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.