Tester Questions Montana Witnesses on Work to Honor Veterans at VA Cemeteries Hearing

Montana Veterans Affairs Division Administrator assures Chairman that Special Forces medallions will be reinstated at the Fort Harrison State Veterans Cemetery following removal

Chairman Jon Tester led a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing yesterday to examine the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration (NCA) and its implementation of recently passed cemetery and burial benefits laws.

“Making sure all veterans have a final resting place that honors their service and sacrifice is a critically important part of preserving their legacy,” Tester said following the hearing. “The NCA does great work to ensure that happens, and I was pleased to hear from Under Secretary Quinn and our witnesses of the work they’re doing to improve how we honor our veterans. There’s always more we can do, and I look forward to continue working with them to ensure we are properly memorializing these brave men and women.”

During the hearing’s first panel, Tester questioned VA’s Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Matthew Quinn on the NCA’s work to ensure all veterans are properly recognized for their honorable service. Quinn highlighted the NCA’s focus on serving underserved communities, including rural populations, and their work to restore or replace worn out or broken grave markers in order to preserve the legacy of veterans for future generations.

In the second panel, Tester asked Montana Veterans Affairs Division Administrator Kelly Ackerman to address the removal of medallions placed on grave markers at the VA state cemetery in Fort Harrison, Montana: “Ms. Ackerman, recently we heard about an issue with First Special Services Force medallions at the cemetery at Fort Harrison. What I need you to do is explain the issue and then tell me how it was resolved.”

“The issue was, it was noticed the First Special Service Force Medallions were on headstones of First Special Service Force at Fort Harrison, Montana…It’s against regulations to have medallions on headstones.” said Ackerman. “We hesitated on taking these medallions off because [Fort Harrison] was the birthplace…I visited with National Cemetery Administration staff and I requested a special exception to be made to be able to keep these medallions on…and I was granted that exceptions…so these medallions will now be able to be re-installed on the headstones.”

The Chairman concluded the hearing by lauding the good work the NCA does to preserve veterans’ legacies: “When I was a teenager, I was asked to play Taps by the VFW for funerals that were held in my hometown. Maybe the highest honor that I’ve ever had in my whole life. Truly got to plays Taps for some incredible people over my life…I just want to say that the work that NCA does, the work that these small communities do, the work that the VFW chapters do providing honor guard and buglers is something we ought to continue to support, and encourage, and make sure it continues to happen.”

The NCA is responsible for operating and ensuring perpetual care of 155 national cemeteries and 34 soldiers’ lots and monument sites that honor and serve as a final resting place for more than 4,000,000 veterans from every era of U.S history. It provides burial and memorial benefits for eligible veterans and their family members cost-free. In 2022, the NCA honored more than 362,000 veterans and their loved ones with headstones and markers in National, State, Tribal, and private cemeteries and issued more than 463,000 Presidential memorial certificates to the family members of veterans.

A staunch supporter of veterans’ cemeteries and memorials, Tester championed the Veterans Cemetery Grants Improvement Act in 2020 to help states, territories, and tribal governments cover the increasing costs of operating and maintaining state-run veteran cemeteries. In 2022, Tester also championed a bipartisan effort to support tribal veterans’ cemeteries by closing the bureaucratic loophole preventing them from receiving plot allowances. Additionally he shepherded the National Cemeteries Preservation and Protection Act of 2022 through Congress, which allows for the NCA to retroactively pay plot allowances to tribal cemeteries, conduct green burials, prevents sexual predators from being interred in our national cemeteries, and cuts red tape on future land transfers to national cemeteries—ensuring further expansion of these shrines.

Continuing his legislative push to memorialize veterans, Tester highlighted his bipartisan Mark Our Place Act in his prepared remarks,which would allow the NCA to furnish new headstones and markers for Medal of Honor recipients who served prior to 1917.


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