American Legion Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division Deputy Director Gerardo Avila testified June 7 before the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. Photo by Mackenzie Wolf/The American Legion

Legion testifies on replacing private grave markers with headstones

American Legion Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division Deputy Director Gerardo Avila testified June 7 before the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. Avila’s testimony on memorializing our nation’s veterans focused on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration (NCA), whose mission is to honor veterans with final resting places in national cemeteries and with tributes that honor their service.

The discrepancies and inconsistencies in how headstones, markers and medallions are issued based on era of service was one of the key issues brought up by Avila during his testimony. Presently, the NCA will provide a headstone or marker for veterans whose graves are marked with private markers and who died after Nov. 1, 1990. Veterans who died after this date may be issued a medallion to commemorate their military service.

“The American Legion firmly believes there should not be inconsistency or discrepancy between veterans based on era of service, and our members are in favor of having NCA headstones replace the private markers, if the veteran or veteran’s family prefers,” he said.

The long wait times family members face when trying to speak to an NCA representative during an emotionally trying time was another concern Avila highlighted, however, family members reported the process goes well once they’re able to get through to a representative.

The American Legion makes it a priority to ensure veterans and their families receive the postmortem respect they deserve. The American Legion previously passed resolutions addressing deficits with NCA services, including Resolution No. 237 which calls for the VA to allow veteran service organization accredited representatives to apply for headstones, markers or medallions when next-of-kin is unavailable. This resolution was passed to address cases where a deceased veteran was not able to receive a grave marker solely because a relative did not make the request.

“We need to make sure that our veterans’ history is not forgotten,” Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Michael Bost, R-Ill., concluded.