Bill Would Allow VA to Disinter Capital-Criminal Vets

Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Dan Coats (R-Ind.) have introduced a bill that would give the VA and Department of the Army the authority to disinter veterans buried in national cemeteries who committed a Federal or State capital crime.

The pair brought the bill in response to the case of Michael LeShawn Anderson, who killed a mother of two in a shooting spree at an Indianapolis apartment complex in May 2012 before taking his own life.

The family of the victim, Alicia Dawn Koehl, found out the veteran shooter had been buried at Fort Custer National Cemetery in Michigan.

“My office has worked with the Koehl family to address this injustice, and this week, we were informed by the VA that a legislative solution is needed," Donnelly said. "...We must preserve the honor of being buried in a veterans’ cemetery.”

“This legislation will give the VA the authority it says it needs to resolve this unacceptable mistake and help provide the Koehl family with a sense of peace and closure.  The victims and family members of this tragic shooting have suffered enough and deserve to have their request met," Coats said. "No one who commits a state or capital crime should be given the honor of a military burial and be laid to rest next to our nation’s heroes. I urge Congress to pass the Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act and help ensure that our fallen veterans can rest in peace next to loved ones and fellow soldiers, not criminals.”

The bill specifically pinpoints those who were never convicted of the crime, like Anderson.

"If...the appropriate Federal official finds, based upon a showing of clear and convincing evidence and after an opportunity for a hearing in a manner prescribed by the appropriate Federal official, that the person had committed a Federal capital crime or a State capital crime but had not been convicted of such crime by reason of such person not being available for trial due to death or flight to avoid prosecution, the appropriate Federal official shall provide notice to the deceased person’s next of kin or other person authorized to arrange burial or memorialization of the deceased person of the decision of the appropriate Federal official to disinter the remains of the deceased person or to remove a memorial headstone or marker memorializing the deceased person," the bill states.

While current law permits the VA from granting military honors and a burial in a national cemetery to someone who has committed a Federal or State capital crime, the Department claims it does not have the authority to exhume the remains if an ineligible veteran was buried mistakenly in one of their cemeteries, Donnelly's office said.