This July 4th marks 236 years of American independence. For 236 years, we have been free to exercise our God-given rights.
This is what our Founding Fathers meant in our Declaration of Independence, when they famously wrote that we Americans “are endowed by (our) Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
These freedoms and others have been defended by our veterans, the men and women in uniform who have fought on our behalf. We are indebted to them.
So as we in Ohio celebrate our nation’s birthday with barbecues and fireworks, let’s remember our veterans, as well as our troops currently serving, and their sacrifices that have helped preserve our freedom, including our very freedom to enjoy a summer day with family and friends.
I’ll continue to advance legislation that supports our service members and veterans. We can’t forget the importance of the simple act of honoring our veterans for their sacrifice — and the final time we have that opportunity is when we lay a veteran to rest. I am proud to be from a state that has been a leader on ensuring all veterans receive a respectful and proper funeral and burial.
A handful of volunteers began a national organization called the Missing in America Project in order to provide a proper funeral and burial for veterans whose remains have gone unclaimed or abandoned at funeral homes and mortuaries across the country. One estimate suggests there are more than 10,000 such remains. Ohio has a particularly strong chapter and they contacted me to help them in their noble cause.
Just last month, the Missing in America Project volunteers in Ohio held a burial for 10 veterans at Dayton National Cemetery. These were veterans of World War I, World War II and the Korean War, whose remains had been sitting at funeral homes for 15 to 25 years, if you can believe that. It was a moving ceremony, and it was attended by a few hundred grateful citizens.
And today, Saturday, June 30, 2012, there was another Missing in America burial, this time at the other end of the state, at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Rittman, Ohio. The remains of veterans identified from northeast Ohio were interred during this ceremony.
Sometimes the dedicated volunteers who help with this important cause run into complications. There are Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) next-of-kin requirements that encumber them, as they are not family members of the deceased, but patriotic fellow citizens.
After hearing from the Missing in America Project volunteers about these concerns, I began working with my colleague from across the aisle, Senator Mark Begich of Alaska, to enact the Veterans Missing in America Act. This bill we’ve put together will ensure that the unclaimed or abandoned remains of eligible veterans will receive a burial in a National Cemetery. Even if a veteran has died alone, that veteran is owed the appreciation of a grateful nation for his or her service to country.
My Ohio colleagues Congressmen Pat Tiberi and Steve Stivers feel the same way, and have introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
Our bill aims to address some of the bureaucratic requirements by ensuring better coordination between the VA and these volunteers so that every veteran receives the respect he or she deserves. Our bill directs the VA secretary to work with veterans service organizations to assist in identifying veterans eligible for burial in a National Cemetery. If the remains are of an eligible veteran, the secretary is then required to provide the burial benefits already authorized to that veteran.
This July 4th, let’s not forget the patriots who’ve helped secure our God-given rights. And let’s remember the basic principles from our founding that have made America a beacon of hope and freedom for the entire world. This includes our freedom of speech, freedom of religion, as well as economic freedom to pursue our dreams, and the American dream. I will continue to fight to preserve these freedoms we celebrate on the 4th.
God bless America and happy 4th!
Rob Portman is a United States Senator from Ohio.