When Eugene “Gene” Crego’s time comes, he may be buried at a private cemetery in Paradise, California, if he decides not to be interned at the VA cemetery here in Phoenix.
The Vietnam veteran who served 21½ years in the Marine Corps wants to be buried next to his wife of 32 years. After all, he said, she committed to a life of sacrifice as much as he did.
But under current policy, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs could not inscribe his wife’s name on his headstone or marker if he was buried at a private cemetery.
Only veterans are entitled to headstones or markers if families choose to bury their loved ones in a private cemetery.
That would change under legislation introduced by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, which would allow the VA to include the names of deceased spouses or children on veterans’ headstones or markers. The measure would apply to all honorably discharged veterans who die on or after Oct. 1, 2018.
“She’s put up with me a long time,” Crego, 71, said of his wife Sue. “We’re family, so to have that there so that anybody that comes by can remember you as a couple, it’s just a better feeling.”
Sinema aims to close a loophole
Sinema, a member of the Senate’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said in a statement that service members should be able to honor their families on their gravestones, no matter where they are interred.
“Closing this loophole ensures all veterans are able to honor their loved ones from their final resting place,” her statement said.
Such a policy is already in place for veterans interred at a VA national cemetery, or state or tribal veterans cemetery.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-California, has introduced a companion piece of the legislation in the House of Representatives.
If the Honoring Veterans’ Families Act passes and is signed into law, about 1,500 veterans would be affected by 2020. By 2029, more than 21,000 veterans would be affected.
Bill has VA and VFW support
The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Department of Arizona support the legislation.
In recent years, VA officials have seen a steady interest by families to have information about veterans’ loved ones inscribed on government-furnished headstones and markers. The administration made a similar proposal to Congress in fiscal year 2019 and again this year, said spokesman Les’ Melnyk.
Jim Ellars, a national legislative officer for the VFW, Department of Arizona, has advocated for the change, saying the names of those who supported, cared for, and loved those who served the nation should be remembered — no matter where the burial plots are located.
“It only makes sense that when the person passes away, that headstone should commemorate who all was involved with protecting the country for doing the job and standing the line,” Ellars said.
“They’ve dedicated a good part of their lives to the military, and what the military requires, and they’re just as much a part of what is written on that stone as the military person was themselves,” he added.