GM 17-054

House of Representatives Approves Bill to Expand Benefits to Tribal Veterans Cemeteries

On November 6, 2017, the House of Representatives approved legislation, HR 3657, to extend to tribal Veterans Cemeteries the Veterans Administration benefit of providing, at no cost, head stones and markers for veterans’ spouses and dependent children who are interred in tribal Veterans Cemeteries. This benefit is already available for eligible spouses and dependent children interred in state, territorial, and national Veterans Cemeteries. The bill is sponsored by Representative Poliquin (R-ME) who attributes the Houlton Band of the Maliseet Indians in his Congressional District for bringing this issue to his attention.

Federally recognized tribes were not until relatively recently eligible to apply for the Veterans Cemetery Grants Program which was created in 1978 and provides funds for the development of state and territorial cemeteries. Public law 109-461, signed December 22, 2006, added tribes as eligible applicants for these grants. The process is quite rigorous for grant approval and receiving such a grant is a requirement for Veterans Cemetery status. Grantees must commit to own, operate and maintain a Veterans Cemetery in accordance with the National Cemetery Administration’s Guidelines which include some tribal flexibility to reflect cultural issues. The required match is 10 percent of the construction costs associated with the cemetery. The program, currently funded at $45 million for state, territorial, and tribal grants, is administered by the National Cemetery Administration.

There is considerable tribal interest in the Veterans Cemetery Grants Program. There are approximately ten officially designated and fully operational tribal Veterans Cemeteries, with another ten on a priority list.

The next step is for Senate consideration of the legislation. At this point there is no Senate equivalent measure although it is possible the Senate could take up the House-passed bill.

Please let us know if we may provide additional information regarding HR 3567 or the Veterans Cemetery Grants Program.