DENYING VETERANS BENEFITS TO PERSONS CONVICTED OF FEDERAL CAPITAL OFFENSES
(House of Representatives - October 31, 1997)

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[Pages H9837-H9839]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




   DENYING VETERANS BENEFITS TO PERSONS CONVICTED OF FEDERAL CAPITAL 
                                OFFENSES

  Mr. STUMP. Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent for the immediate 
consideration in the House of the Senate bill (S. 923) to deny veterans 
benefits to persons convicted of Federal capital offenses.
  The Clerk read the title of the Senate bill.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the 
gentleman from Arizona?
  There was no objection.
  The Clerk read the Senate bill, as follows:

                                 S. 923

       Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of 
     the United States of America in Congress assembled,

     SECTION 1. DENIAL OF VETERANS BENEFITS

       Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a person who is 
     convicted of a Federal capital offense is ineligible for 
     benefits provided to veterans of the Armed Forces of the 
     United States pursuant to title 38, United States Code.


      Amendment in the Nature of a Substitute Offered by Mr. Stump

  Mr. STUMP. Madam Speaker, in lieu of the committee amendment, I offer 
an amendment in the nature of a substitute.
  The Clerk read as follows:

       Amendment in the nature of a substitute offered by Mr. 
     Stump: Strike out all after the enacting clause and insert in 
     lieu thereof the following:

     SECTION 1. DENIAL OF ELIGIBILITY FOR INTERMENT OR 
                   MEMORIALIZATION IN CERTAIN CEMETERIES OF 
                   PERSONS COMMITTING FEDERAL CAPITAL CRIMES.

       (a) Prohibition Against Interment or Memorialization in 
     Certain Federal Cemeteries.--Chapter 24 of title 38, United 
     States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following 
     new section:

     ``Sec. 2411. Prohibition against interment or memorialization 
       in the National Cemetery System or Arlington National 
       Cemetery of persons committing Federal or State capital 
       crimes

       ``(a)(1) In the case of a person described in subsection 
     (b), the appropriate Federal official may not--
       ``(A) inter the remains of such person in a cemetery in the 
     National Cemetery System or in Arlington National Cemetery; 
     or
       ``(B) honor the memory of such person in a memorial area in 
     a cemetery in the National Cemetery System (described in 
     section 2403(a) of this title) or in such an area in 
     Arlington National Cemetery (described in section 2409(a) of 
     this title).
       ``(2) The prohibition under paragraph (1) shall not apply 
     unless written notice of a conviction or finding under 
     subsection (b) is received by the appropriate Federal 
     official before such official approves an application for the 
     interment or memorialization of such person. Such written 
     notice shall be furnished to such official by the Attorney 
     General, in the case of a Federal capital crime, or by an 
     appropriate State official, in the case of a State capital 
     crime.
       ``(b) A person referred to in subsection (a) is any of the 
     following:
       ``(1) A person who has been convicted of a Federal capital 
     crime for which the person was sentenced to death or life 
     imprisonment.
       ``(2) A person who has been convicted of a State capital 
     crime for which the person was sentenced to death or life 
     imprisonment without parole.
       ``(3) A person who--
       ``(A) is found (as provided in subsection (c)) to have 
     committed a Federal capital crime or a State capital crime, 
     but
       ``(B) has not been convicted of such crime by reason of 
     such person not being available for trial due to death or 
     flight to avoid prosecution.
       ``(c) A finding under subsection (b)(3) shall be made by 
     the appropriate Federal official. Any such finding may only 
     be made based upon a showing of clear and convincing 
     evidence, after an opportunity for a hearing in a manner 
     prescribed by the appropriate Federal official.
       ``(d) For purposes of this section:
       ``(1) The term `Federal capital crime' means an offense 
     under Federal law for which the death penalty or life 
     imprisonment may be imposed.
       ``(2) The term `State capital crime' means, under State 
     law, the willful, deliberate, or premeditated unlawful 
     killing of another human being for which the death penalty or 
     life imprisonment without parole may be imposed.
       ``(3) The term `appropriate Federal official' means--
       ``(A) the Secretary, in the case of the National Cemetery 
     System; and
       ``(B) the Secretary of the Army, in the case of Arlington 
     National Cemetery.''.
       (b) Clerical Amendment.--The table of sections at the 
     beginning of chapter 24 of such title is amended by adding at 
     the end the following new item:

``2411. Prohibition against interment or memorialization in the 
              National Cemetery System or Arlington National Cemetery 
              of persons committing Federal or State capital crimes.''.

       (c) Effective Date.--Section 2411 of title 38, United 
     States Code, as added by subsection (a), shall apply with 
     respect to applications for interment or memorialization made 
     on or after the date of the enactment of this Act.

     SEC. 2. CONDITION ON GRANTS TO STATE-OWNED VETERAN 
                   CEMETERIES.

       Section 2408 of title 38, United States Code, is amended--
       (1) by redesignating subsection (d) as subsection (e); and
       (2) by inserting after subsection (c) the following new 
     subsection:
       ``(d)(1) In addition to the conditions specified in 
     subsections (b) and (c), any grant made on or after the date 
     of the enactment of this subsection to a State under this 
     section to assist such State in establishing, expanding, or 
     improving a veterans' cemetery shall be made on the condition 
     described in paragraph (2).
       ``(2) For purposes of paragraph (1), the condition 
     described in this paragraph is that, after the date of the 
     receipt of the grant, such State prohibit the interment or 
     memorialization in that cemetery of a person described in 
     section 2411(b) of this title, subject to the receipt of 
     notice described in subsection (a)(2) of such section, except 
     that for purposes of this subsection--
       ``(A) such notice shall be furnished to an appropriate 
     official of such State; and
       ``(B) a finding described in subsection (b)(3) of such 
     section shall be made by an appropriate official of such 
     State.''.

  Mr. STUMP (during the reading). Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous 
consent that the amendment in the nature of a substitute be considered 
as read and printed in the Record.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the 
gentleman from Arizona?
  There was no objection.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. The gentleman from Arizona [Mr. Stump] is 
recognized for 1 hour.
  Mr. STUMP. Madam Speaker, I yield 30 minutes to the gentleman from 
Illinois {Mr. Evans] pending which I yield myself such time as I may 
consume.
  Madam Speaker, S. 923 is a bill to deny burial in a national cemetery 
to veterans convicted of capital offenses. During our committee 
hearings on this measure, and a similar measure which the gentleman 
from Illinois [Mr. Evans] and I introduced, we heard testimony from all 
the major veterans service organizations. Although none of the 
organizations oppose the concept of the legislation in this area, they 
all urged the committee to be very careful about taking away earned 
benefits from veterans who have served their country honorably.
  Existing law requires the reduction of compensation benefits to 
veterans serving prison terms, and there are provisions which revoke 
all benefits for certain crimes, such as treason or espionage.
  Our committee carefully examined a number of proposals which would 
deny benefits to a certain class of veterans and reached a bipartisan 
conclusion on the legislation before the House. The committee chose not 
to limit benefits other than burial in a national cemetery at Arlington 
or in State veterans cemeteries.
  However, the House amendment does expand the types of crimes which 
could lead to loss of benefits to both State and Federal capital 
crimes. I want to note the role of the gentleman from

[[Page H9838]]

Alabama [Mr. Bachus] in insisting that the bill address State capital 
crimes. I would also like to thank the gentleman from Texas [Mr. 
Rodriguez] for his careful examination of the legislation and for his 
suggestions regarding veterans who may not stand trial for capital 
offenses.
  Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. EVANS. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
  Madam Speaker, I rise in support of the amendment in the nature of a 
substitute to this bill offered by the distinguished gentleman from 
Arizona [Mr. Stump], the chairman of the Committee on Veterans' 
Affairs. The amendment is a measured response to a difficult and 
complex question: Under what circumstances should a veteran who has 
served our country honorably be denied the privilege of a burial in a 
cemetery set aside for the repose of veterans?
  This bill recognizes that some former members of the Armed Forces 
have been found guilty of acts so egregious in the eyes of the Nation 
that they should forfeit their right to burial in a cemetery dedicated 
to veterans. S. 923, as amended, recognizes the special value of 
service to our country. It reinforces the general principle of veterans 
rights earned in service to this Nation may be abridged only in the 
most extraordinary circumstances, extraordinary circumstances which 
justify an abridgement of the right to burial in a veterans cemetery 
are specified in this legislation.
  The amendment offered by the gentleman today, which I support, varies 
from the version passed by the full committee. These changes clarify 
the intent of the committee to prevent the burial of former military 
members who engaged in postmilitary service acts so offensive to 
preclude their burial in those cemeteries which have been set aside for 
the repose of our Nation's veterans. Veterans who are convicted of 
Federal capital crimes and of murder in State capital cases will be 
barred from burial in the National Cemetery Service, Arlington National 
Cemetery, and any State's veterans cemetery which has received a grant 
from the Department of Veterans Affairs for such cemetery on or after 
the date of the enactment of this bill.
  Veterans who fled to avoid prosecution or who have lost their life as 
a result of a Federal and State capital crime which otherwise would 
have resulted in the sentence of death or life imprisonment as defined 
by this bill will also be barred from burial in a veterans cemetery. An 
earlier version of this bill would have denied the burial benefits to 
veterans who had not been tried by reason of insanity.
  As a result of the concerns raised by the distinguished gentleman 
from Texas [Mr. Rodriguez], it became clear that such a course would be 
unwise. I want to thank my colleagues on the committee and particularly 
the gentleman from New York [Mr. Quinn], the chairman of the 
subcommittee, who worked diligently to address these issues contained 
in this legislation. I urge my colleagues to support this measure.
  Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. STUMP. Madam Speaker, I yield such time as he may consume to the 
gentleman from New York [Mr. Quinn], the chairman of the subcommittee.
  Mr. QUINN. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me this 
time. The bill before the House this afternoon reflects an amendment to 
S. 923 as reported by the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. As 
amended, S. 923 would prohibit burial or memorialization in a national 
cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery or, prospectively, any State 
cemetery for which a State receives funding from the VA to anyone 
convicted of a Federal capital crime or any State capital crime 
involving the loss of one or more lives. It also gives the appropriate 
Federal and State officials the authority to deny burial to those who 
are shown by clear and convincing evidence are guilty of such a crime 
but are unavailable because they have avoided prosecution or died prior 
to trial. The bill does not affect other burial benefits such as a 
flag, Presidential certificates, or burial payments.
  Madam Speaker, in crafting this bill and this legislation before us, 
we have adopted the Senate's desire to include all Federal capital 
crimes but, in recognition of a veteran's honorable service, we have 
retained the very limited denial of benefits contained in H.R. 2040 
introduced by the gentleman from Arizona [Mr. Stump]. As amended, S. 
923 will not distinguish between a crime against a Federal official or 
a private citizen, Federal or State law.
  We believe that the bill amendment strikes a reasonable position, as 
the gentleman from Illinois [Mr. Evans], the ranking member, just 
mentioned, that protects the status of honorable military service while 
recognizing at the same time the heinous nature of capital crimes.
  Madam Speaker, I want to emphasize to all of our colleagues that this 
bill does not violate constitutional provisions against ex post facto 
laws, nor does it qualify as a bill of attainder. This bill is an 
exercise of the Congress' constitutional authority to prescribe 
eligibility for any veterans benefit and, because we are proscribing a 
class of persons, this is not a bill of attainder.
  Madam Speaker, in closing, I genuinely want to thank our ranking 
member of the subcommittee, the gentleman from California [Mr. Filner], 
the gentleman from Alabama [Mr. Bachus], the gentleman from Arkansas 
[Mr. Snyder], and the gentleman from Texas [Mr. Rodriguez] for their 
work on this bill.
  We scheduled extra meetings in my office and had meetings with the 
chairman and the ranking member, and, in my estimation, when we had to 
deal with some very emotional issues, we took a measured, timed 
approach to end up with a truly bipartisan effort here this afternoon.
  I thank my friends and colleagues on both sides of the aisle for 
their interest and the time they spent. I think we end up with at least 
a bill we can take to the full Congress.
  Mr. EVANS. Madam Speaker, I yield 4 minutes to the gentleman from 
Missouri [Mr. Skelton].
  Mr. SKELTON. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me 
this time.
  Madam Speaker, I compliment the chairman of the committee and the 
ranking member of the committee, as well as other Members, the 
gentleman from Texas [Mr. Rodriguez], the gentleman from New York [Mr. 
Quinn], and the gentleman from Alabama [Mr. Bachus], for their efforts 
in this regard.
  Madam Speaker, imagine yourself a member of a family who has a loved 
one, a veteran who has passed on, who is buried in a national cemetery, 
either in Arlington or another national cemetery such as the one we 
have, one of three we have in Missouri. Also imagine that in a plot 
nearby, a convicted mass murderer, a veteran, is buried.
  What would the reaction of you or the family be? Anguish? 
Disappointment?
  This law, that hopefully will pass and be on the books, covers that 
loophole. I testified before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs 
concerning this issue. I recommended then that the present law be 
changed to prohibit convicted murderers and terrorists from being 
buried in national cemeteries.
  The current law prohibits burial in national cemeteries of veterans 
who have been convicted of certain crimes. However, the law has a 
loophole which needs to be closed. The existing law does not prohibit 
veterans who use weapons of mass destruction against property or 
persons of the Federal Government or murder of a Federal law 
enforcement officer or the crime of terrorism from being buried in 
national cemeteries.
  This, of course, was brought to my attention as a result of the mass 
murder of 168 Americans in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, and the 
subsequent conviction of a man who happened to be a veteran.
  Missouri, Madam Speaker, has three national cemeteries, Jefferson 
City National Cemetery, the Springfield National Cemetery, and 
Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, the latter of which is in St. 
Louis. We should reserve our national cemeteries for individuals who 
served and sacrificed for love of country, those who in later life 
would be role models for those who follow them as members of the armed 
services or as veterans.
  The honor that accompanies burial in a national cemetery is a guarded 
treasure. The men and women who faced unparalleled adversity while 
serving their

[[Page H9839]]

country deserve a patriotic and esteemed burial.
  It is with these thoughts in mind that I not only compliment the 
committee, the chairman and ranking member and those who worked on it, 
but I endorse it wholeheartedly and urge its passage.
  Mr. STUMP. Madam Speaker, I yield 3 minutes to the gentleman from 
Alabama [Mr. Bachus], a member of the committee.
  Mr. BACHUS. Madam Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding me 
time.
  Madam Speaker, I want to commend the chairman of our committee, the 
gentleman from Arizona [Mr. Stump], and the gentleman from New York 
[Mr. Quinn], the chairman of the subcommittee. What they have done 
through their leadership on this bill is to give us a much better piece 
of legislation than what we had when it came over from the Senate.
  The bill is not to punish; the bill is to protect our veterans. It is 
to respect our veterans. It is meant to protect them. It is not 
punitive. This bill does a very fine job of doing that.
  When the bill came over from the Senate, the gentleman from Missouri 
[Mr. Skelton] talked about a loophole, and I think that is a very good 
word. I think the gentleman is correct, in that when it came over from 
the Senate it said that certain people could not be buried in a 
National Cemetery if they had committed a Federal offense or a Federal 
capital offense. We agreed with that.
  But the Committee on Veterans' Affairs felt we should not set up a 
preference for someone who commits Federal offenses, nor should there 
be preferential treatment given to Federal offenses as opposed to State 
offenses. In other words, if you blew up a Federal building, if you 
killed a Federal officer, if you committed a murder on an Indian 
reservation, you would be prohibited from being buried in a national 
cemetery; but if you blew up a city hall, if you killed a sheriff, if 
you walked in a McDonald's and killed 20 people, there would be no 
prohibition on you, a mass murderer, being buried in a national 
cemetery.
  We took care of that simply by saying that all capital offenses were 
covered. What the gentleman from Arizona [Mr. Stump] took leadership on 
is he was interested in respecting our cemeteries, preserving their 
dignity, thinking about those heroes who are buried there, and our 
statement to the Nation on who are our heroes.
  The Senate bill, I think, was punitive, in that it denied to the 
widows, to the dependents, all benefits, and that was not what we were 
after. That is not what we were seeking. We were seeking to protect and 
to respect, not to be punitive.
  The final product I wholly endorse. I originally introduced part of 
this legislation in response to a lynching of a 19-year-old young man 
in Mobile County. The bill that came from the Senate would not have 
addressed this. The people that participated in the military honor 
guard protested having to participate in honoring a man who had just 
been executed in the electric chair in Alabama. The Senate bill did not 
address that; the House bill did.
  Madam Speaker, this is a much better bill, and I urge its passage, 
and I thank the chairman and the subcommittee chairman.
  Mr. EVANS. Madam Speaker, I yield the balance of my time to the 
gentleman from Texas [Mr. Rodriguez], a fighter for veterans and member 
of the committee.
  Mr. RODRIGUEZ. Madam Speaker, I rise today to commend the leadership 
for taking swift and precise action to prevent violent criminals from 
being honored in our Nation's veterans' cemeteries.
  The bill we are passing today amends earlier provisions which may 
have unfairly targeted those who would be blamed, veterans' families or 
veterans who suffer from mental illness. I believe the focus of this 
bill on actual convicts and veterans who obviously committed the crime 
with the requisite mental intent protects due process for veterans and 
their families.
  In protecting veterans and veterans' families from the arbitrary 
elimination of benefits, this legislation strikes the resounding chord 
that we will not bless criminal veterans with the honor of burial in 
our national cemeteries.
  Madam Speaker, in closing, let me thank the chairman and the ranking 
member, as well as the gentleman from New York, Chairman Quinn. I think 
the gentleman did an exceptional job in reaching out to us in a 
bipartisan manner.
  Mr. EVANS. Madam Speaker, I have no further requests for time, and I 
yield back the balance of my time.
  Mr. STUMP. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.
  Madam Speaker, once again I would like to commend the gentleman from 
New York [Mr. Quinn] and the gentleman from California [Mr. Filner], 
the chairman and ranking member of this subcommittee, and also again 
the gentleman from Alabama [Mr. Bachus] and the gentleman from Texas 
[Mr. Rodriguez] and the ranking member of the full committee, the 
gentleman from Illinois [Mr. Evans], for all their fine work on this 
bill. I think we have come up with a very fine product, and I would 
urge all Members to support it.
  Mr. KNOLLENBERG. Madam Speaker, I rise in strong support of S. 923, a 
bill to deny veterans burial benefits to persons convicted of Federal 
capital offenses. I would also like to commend the chairman of the 
House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Mr. Stump, for his guidance in 
bringing this important bill before the House.
  On June 18, I introduced H.R. 1955 which is similar to the 
legislation before the House today. As a member of the VA-HUD 
Appropriations subcommittee, I felt it was necessary and appropriate to 
introduce this legislation after the Senate passed S. 923 by a vote of 
98 to 0.
  As pictures of the Oklahoma City bombing were brought into the lives 
of everyone across this great country, no one watched with more horror 
than I did. It will always remain ingrained in our hearts, our minds, 
and our souls.
  Like the rest of the Nation, I was saddened more by the fact the 
person responsible for killing 168 people in the most heinous domestic 
terrorist act ever committed could receive a hero's burial with taps, a 
21-gun salute, and a flag-draped coffin.
  S. 923 is the right thing to do. Our Nation's veterans' cemeteries 
are sacred ground, and they are a solemn and sad reminder of the price 
our Nation has paid for the freedom we enjoy every day. It is wrong for 
those veterans and their dependents to live with the thought that 
someone who has killed so many innocent lives on our own soil could be 
laid to rest next to these fallen heroes.
  I commend Chairman Stump and the rest of the Veterans' Committee for 
their diligence on this issue. I would also like to thank the chairman 
for allowing me to testify before his committee on this very issue. All 
of us, including myself, who served in our armed services are thankful 
for his leadership to ensure our Nation's cemeteries remain sacred.


                             General Leave

  Mr. STUMP. Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members 
may have 5 legislative days within which to revise and extend their 
remarks and include extraneous material on S. 923 and H.R. 2367.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the 
gentleman from Arizona?
  There was no objection.
  Mr. STUMP. Madam Speaker, I have no further requests for time, and I 
yield back the balance of my time.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. The question is on the amendment in the 
nature of a substitute offered by the gentleman from Arizona [Mr. 
Stump].
  The amendment in the nature of a substitute was agreed to.
  The Senate bill was ordered to be read a third time, was read the 
third time, and passed.
  The title of the Senate bill was amended so as to read:

       An Act to amend title 38, United States Code, to prohibit 
     interment or memorialization in certain cemeteries of persons 
     committing Federal or State capital crimes.

  A motion to reconsider was laid on the table.

                          ____________________