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Obama signs bill to better identify, process unclaimed veterans remains

The Tribune Democrat

Local lawmakers on Monday praised a bill that will expand efforts to identify and find burial places for the unclaimed remains of military veterans – a measure signed into law Friday by President Barack Obama.

The Dignified Interment of Our Veterans Act was introduced in the U.S. House in 2014 by Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Everett.

The bill – also sponsored by Pennsylvania House members Matthew Cartwright, D-Erie; Patrick Meehan, R-Cheltenham; and Glenn Thompson, R-Howard – was a companion bill to legislation introduced by in the Senate by Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey in 2013.

The act requires that the secretary of veterans affairs study how unclaimed remains are identified and processed, starting with developing better lines of communication with local funeral directors.

Shuster’s office reported that, according to the Missing in America Project, there are an estimated 47,000 veterans remains stored throughout the United States that have yet to be claimed due to a lack of next of kin or other family.

“Currently, due to legislative and procedural barriers that prevent multi-agency cooperation and collaboration, it can be extremely difficult for the Department of Veterans Affairs, veteran service organizations and funeral directors to determine whether the next of kin can be found,” Shuster’s office said in a press release.

The act “begins the process of looking at how the VA handles these remains by conducting a study of how they are identified, claimed and interred,” Shuster’s office said.

The study will estimate the number of unclaimed remains, evaluate existing procedures relating to the claiming and burial of remains and recommend appropriate legislative or administrative action for future congressional consideration, Shuster said.

“Our veterans represent the best of us and when they pass away, it’s incumbent upon us as a nation to ensure that each of them receive a service fitting of their bravery and sacrifice,” Toomey said in an email to The Tribune-Democrat.

“It was an honor to work with Congressman Shuster and veterans from across Pennsylvania and the country to pass the Dignified Interment of our Veterans Act which brings us significantly closer to this goal.”

Shuster added: “I’ve been proud to work on behalf of our veterans across Pennsylvania and across the country to bring our fallen heroes the dignity they deserve.

“Getting this legislation signed into law is an important first step in what we hope will enable us to address the tragic problem of veterans’ remains sitting on shelves not receiving the burial they deserve.”