Coats Bill to Protect Integrity of National Cemeteries Clears the Senate

Senate passage of Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act one step closer to law

Senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.) today praised the Senate's passage of the Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act, (S.1471), legislation he introduced that would give the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Department of the Army the authority to disinter veterans buried in national cemeteries who have committed a Federal or State capital crime. The bill passed the Senate unanimously on Monday evening.

"I truly wish the events that prompted the need for this legislation never occurred in the first place," said Coats. "My office and I have been working for more than a year with the Koehl family and the VA to remedy this unacceptable mistake. I am pleased the Senate unanimously passed my bill to help give the Koehl family a sense of closure and to protect the integrity of our national cemeteries."

"The men and women who have served our country are heroes and deserve to be honored when they pass; however, veterans who have committed a capital crime should not be allowed to be laid to rest in one of our national cemeteries among these brave individuals," said Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and a cosponsor of the bill. "A military burial is one of the greatest honors we can bestow on our men and women in uniform and should not include those who have committed such heinous acts."

Specifically, the bill would give the VA the authority it needs to exhume the remains of Michael LaShawn Anderson, who shot and killed Indianapolis resident Alicia Dawn Koehl on May 30, 2012. After learning that Anderson was buried at Fort Custer National Cemetery, the Koehl family requested that the VA disinter his remains. The VA rejected the request, claiming it does not have the authority to exhume the remains of an ineligible veteran who is mistakenly buried in one of their cemeteries.

Current law prohibits persons who "have committed a Federal or State capital crime but were unavailable for trial due to death" from being given the honor of a burial in a national cemetery.

Coats added, "As a veteran myself, I have the deepest respect for those who have worn the uniform to serve our country, but no veteran who commits a state or federal capital crime should be given the honor of a military burial and be laid to rest next to our nation's heroes. That is the law today and my bill allows the VA and Defense Department to ensure the law is followed."

Coats introduced the Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act on August 1, 2013. Representative Susan W. Brooks (R-Ind.) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

Click here for a copy of the legislation.