Jerry Kopel


The Observor's December issue missed a valuable addition to its list of bills before the Colorado legislature in 2002. Both the House and Senate have passed and sent to Gov. Bill Owens a measure revising the state's burial policy for indigent veterans.

Did you know that without this revision, SB 100, indigent veterans who entered military service AFTER Desert Storm were not entitled to veterans burial benefits provided by state law?

That's because this ancient law, which began in 1887, continued to insert additional wars to a list that begins with the "civil war, Colorado Indian Wars", and other wars we are all familiar with up to Desert Storm.

And in the same statute, only two of the 41 member organizations of the United Veterans Committee were allowed to have custody and care of the graves for indigent veterans: The Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. There were two other organizations listed in this ancient law, but they are no longer with us: The Grand Army of the Republic and the United Spanish War Veterans.

The new law does not designate veteran groups by name, just as "military veteran service organization" allowed to have custody and care of the graves.

The indigent veterans include any "who served in any branch of the armed forces... during any period of any declared or undeclared war or other armed hostilities against an armed foreign enemy, or who served on active duty in any branch of the armed services in any campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge is authorized."

The new law allows each county to decide how much to contribute to the burial as well as providing the setting of headstones. And the state will now be able to purchase burial spaces of at least eight free internments or more in each purchase, which should save the state money.

I drafted the language of the bill which was carried by Sen. Bill Thiebaut (D-Pueblo) and Rep. Abel Tapia (D-Pueblo). The measure received the wholehearted endorsement of E. William Belz II, director of the state Division of Veterans Affairs.

If only one percent of veterans die indigent in Colorado, that's 4,000 burials this bill will help provide for.

(Jerry Kopel is a military veteran who served 22 years in the Colorado legislature.)

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