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Nov 21, 2013

Tester, Kennedy overturn VA headstone policy

(U.S. SENATE) - Senator Jon Tester and Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy today won a major victory for Yellowstone County veterans.

Tester and Kennedy successfully got the Department of Veterans Affairs to change its policy and allow local officials to request government headstones or markers for deceased veterans at the Yellowstone County Veterans Cemetery.

Until today, only the deceased veterans' next-of-kin could request a VA headstone. The policy prevented many veterans' graves, especially those of homeless veterans, from getting a VA headstone and the honor that comes with it.

"The tremendous sacrifices of Montana veterans should be honored in life and death," said Tester, Montana's only member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. "Today's change makes sure more Montana veterans get the ever-lasting respect they earned. I appreciate the hard work of Commissioner Kennedy and all Montana veterans who fought to make this right."

"Each and every veteran deserves a marker on their final resting place because headstones help us honor their sacrifice," Kennedy said. "It is no surprise to me that as soon as folks in Billings brought this issue to Senator Tester, he was able to push the VA to make this important change."

Tester received today's news during a call with VA Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Steve Muro.

Tester recently got the VA to recognize the Yellowstone County Veterans Cemetery as a National Veterans Burial Ground. Prior to last year's announcement, no veterans' cemetery in Montana was nationally recognized.

National recognition means the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will fund and maintain a portion of the cemetery.

The Yellowstone County Veterans Cemetery, which is the final resting place for 16,000 veterans, is located along Buffalo Trail Road north of Laurel.

Tester was recently in Billings to pay tribute to Montana veterans and Veterans Service Organizations on Veterans Day.

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