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House Passes Dignified Burial Act

January 3, 2013

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House Passes Dignified Burial Act

Article originally printed in the Memorial Business Journal

Not to be lost under all of the “fiscal cliff” posturing over the past two weeks in Congress was the action on December 30 when the House passed, by voice vote, S.3202, the “Dignified Burial and Other Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2012.” The bill now goes to the president for signature.

According to John H. Fitch Jr., senior vice president of advocacy for the National Funeral Directors Association, the bill was strongly and actively supported by NFDA and includes several key provisions that NFDA has been working to have passed.

Fitch outlined those provisions:

• Requiring the secretary of Veterans Affairs to furnish a casket or urn “of such quality as the secretary considers appropriate for a dignified burial in a national cemetery” for veterans with no next of kin or when sufficient resources for
the burial are not otherwise available. The casket or urn must be in compliance with appropriate industry standards. This provision is effective one year after enactment.

• With respect to the burial, interment or funeral, memorial service or ceremony of a deceased veteran at a national cemetery, the secretary shall ensure that the expressed wishes of the next of kin or other agent of the deceased veteran are respected and given appropriate deference when evaluating whether the event affects the safety and security of the national cemetery and visitors to the cemetery. This provision is effective from and after enactment.

• The secretary shall give access to any honor guard unit, including those of any VSO [Veterans’ Service Organization] or other non-governmental group providing services to the deceased veteran, to public areas of a national cemetery if requested by the next of kin or other authorized agent. This provision is effective from and after enactment.

• With respect to each deceased veteran who is transported to a national cemetery for burial, the secretary shall ensure that the local medical examiner, funeral director, county service group or other entity responsible for the body of the deceased veteran before such transportation submits to the secretary (a) whether the deceased was cremated and (b) steps taken to ensure that the deceased veteran has no next of kin. [NOTE: A deceased veteran described in this subsection is one who has no next of kin or other person claiming the body of the deceased veteran and who does not have sufficient resources for furnishing a casket or urn.] The secretary shall pay the funeral expenses and transportation costs for the deceased veteran. This provision takes effect 180 days after enactment.

• The secretary shall cooperate with VSOs to assist entities (funeral homes) in possession of unclaimed or abandoned human remains to determine if such remains are those of a veteran or other individual eligible for burial in a national cemetery under the jurisdiction of the secretary. This provision is effective one year after enactment.

“Suffice it to say, this is a major victory for our nation’s veterans,” Fitch said.