VA Agrees To Modify Its Next-of-Kin Policy
By Kathryn Jorgensen
(May 2013 Civil War News)

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — A Veterans Affairs official told a House subcommittee his agency is willing to make changes in federal regulations requiring next-of-kin authorization for headstones on unmarked veterans’ graves.

The requirement, which has been discussed and complained about in Civil War News letters and stories since it went into effect on July 1, 2009, essentially meant that few if any Civil War graves could get a marker through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) National Cemetery Administration.

Traditionally, applications for these graves came from heritage groups, such as Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War graves registration officers and local historians.

Steve L. Muro, Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, told the House Committee on Veterans Affairs on April 10 that the current Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 38.632 — Headstone and Marker Application Process — appeared to be “too restrictive.”

He said his agency is willing to do some rewrites and make it “more user friendly.” The revised regulation will be put out for public comment, he said.

Muro’s response to comments and questions from New Jersey Congressman Jon Runyan (R-3rd District) can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQBIb7Sbr9I&feature=youtu.be

Runyan’s statement was prompted by a constituent and the Department of Ohio SUVCW. He told Muro that the next-of-kin requirement denying skilled researchers the ability to order a headstone gave people another reason to be disappointed with government bureaucracy.

Runyan referred Muro to the Ohio Department’s remedial suggestions: allow military researchers, local historians and genealogists to apply for a stone; or follow the National Archives and National Records Administration’s policy that allows release of military records to other than next-of-kin for someone deceased more than 62 years.

In its February 2013 issue of The Buckeye Bugle, the Ohio Department discussed the headstone issue and noted that the most recent version of the marker application language says: “Federal regulation defines ‘applicant’ as the decedent’s Next-of-Kin (NOK); a person authorized in writing by the NOK; or a personal representative authorized in writing by the decedent. Written authorization must be included with claim.”

The newsletter related VA rejection of six applications by the SUV Camp 142 Graves Registration Officer “for want of a descendant’s signature though there are no known descendants to be found.”

The Ohio Department had also asked an Ohio Congressman to take up the problem with the National Cemetery Administration.

If the government refuses a headstone, the only option is a privately purchased civilian gravestone. The VA does replace damaged and worn headstones.