New Hampshire’s senior senator and junior congressman have introduced legislation that could allow National Guardsmen and Reservists to be buried in their state veterans cemeteries even if they were not activated for federal deployment.
The Burial Equity for Guards and Reserves Act of 2020 is not a mandate, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH) said in a video conference call Wednesday morning. But it would give state veterans cemeteries the option.
Under current federal rules, members of the Guard and Reserves can be buried in state veterans cemeteries only if they have been called to federal active duty, said Shaheen, who serves on the Senate Committee on Armed Services. If states did so, they would jeopardize federal funding from the National Cemetery Administration, part of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The proposed law would change those rules.
Col. Warren Perry, deputy adjutant general of the New Hampshire National Guard, said the bill “closes a loophole in the current statutes.”
At a time when hundreds of National Guardsmen are working on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis in New Hampshire, Shaheen said, “I think it’s only right that we are able to honor the Guard and Reserves who have served our state and our nation so honorably.”
Shawn Buck, the director of the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery in Boscawen, said the proposed change is overdue. “But it’s time,” he said.
Pappas, who serves on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, called the Boscawen cemetery “hallowed ground.” And he said allowing honorably discharged members of the Guard and Reserves, and their spouses, to be laid to rest there is “an idea whose time has come.”
“It’s about equality,” Pappas said. “It’s about giving them the honor and dignity they deserve.”
U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan and U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, both D-NH, are co-sponsoring the legislation.