Funding for honor guards at vet funerals cut
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota will no longer pay for honor guards at veterans' funerals, forcing the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other groups to seek new sources of funding to help them give military honors to veterans who have died.
Up until now, the state reimbursed service organizations up to $50 for each funeral and allocated $100,000 for the program annually. But the funding was discontinued as part of budget cuts being imposed to help plug a projected $5 billion deficit.
Veterans groups got the word as the American Legion is holding its national convention in Minneapolis this week, Minnesota Public Radio News reported Wednesday (http://bit.ly/o6npTH ).
"As we take a look at the service organizations, many of them are struggling financially," Veterans Affairs Deputy Commissioner Reggie Worlds said. "This was a way to assist them to provide that dignified burial by providing some reimbursements."
Worlds said his agency hopes it will be in better fiscal shape next year so it can resume funding the program.
Bill Christenson, who directs the Honor Guard at the Albert Lea American Legion, said his post has been reimbursed $10,000 since 2008. He said the funds paid for uniforms, mileage, rifle shells used during military salutes and musicians who played Taps. He said he was surprised to learn that the grant funding would end.
"We'll have to find some other way of doing it," Christensen said.
Federal law requires funeral honors for an eligible veteran if requested by the veteran's family. At a minimum, the honors include presenting a folded American flag to the next of kin and playing Taps.
Despite the cut, veterans groups say they'll ensure that veterans receive their final honors, said John Marshall, who leads the Duluth Combined Honor Guard, which has received $25,300 in state funds since 2008. He said he understands the state had to make budget cuts but isn't sure why this program was targeted.
"There is not one veteran that will go without military honors as long as I'm around," Marshall said. "There will never be a family that will ever be turned away. No veteran will go without."
Marshall said the federal government also gives a $50 stipend to groups but that the available national funds were spent early last year and he's worried that money will run out this year. If that happens, Marshall said he'll have "big problems" and will have to raise more money elsewhere. He said his group serves at about 200 funerals a year.
The funding cut surprised state Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, who chairs the House State Government Finance Committee and said the administration of Gov. Mark Dayton should find a way to continue paying for honor guards.
"I believe they have the flexibility in their programs to be able to fund this in the future should they choose to do that," he said.
Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mpr.org
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.