08/06/13 Senators Joe Donnelly and Dan Coats today introduced the Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act, legislation that would give the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Department of the Army the authority to disinter veterans buried in national cemeteries who committed a Federal or State capital crime. The legislation is cosponsored by Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.
The bill would give the VA the authority it needs to exhume the remains of Michael LeShawn Anderson, a veteran who shot and killed Indianapolis resident Alicia Dawn Koehl last year before committing suicide. The Koehl family later discovered that Anderson was buried at Fort Custer National Cemetery in Michigan.
Donnelly said, “My office has worked with the Koehl family to address this injustice, and this week, we were informed by the VA that a legislative solution is needed. Today, Senator Coats and I introduced a bill to help provide relief to the Koehl family and a solution to these tragic circumstances. We must preserve the honor of being buried in a veterans’ cemetery.”
Coats said, “This legislation will give the VA the authority it says it needs to resolve this unacceptable mistake and help provide the Koehl family with a sense of peace and closure. The victims and family members of this tragic shooting have suffered enough and deserve to have their request met. No one who commits a state or capital crime should be given the honor of a military burial and be laid to rest next to our nation’s heroes. I urge Congress to pass the Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for National Cemeteries Act and help ensure that our fallen veterans can rest in peace next to loved ones and fellow soldiers, not criminals.”
On May 30, 2012, Anderson went on a shooting spree at an Indianapolis apartment complex, injuring three people and taking the life of Alicia Dawn Koehl, a wife and mother of two. Anderson killed himself as police were arriving.
After learning that Anderson was buried in a national cemetery, the Koehl family requested that the VA disinter his remains. Federal law prohibits persons who “have committed a Federal or State capital crime but were unavailable for trial due to death” from being given the honor of a burial in a national cemetery.
Senators Donnelly and Coats have been working with the Koehl family to get a response from the VA regarding the improper burial and the request for disinterment. The VA notified both senators earlier this week that the Department will not disinter the remains of Anderson because it does not believe it has the legal authority to do so. While current law permits the VA from granting military honors and a burial in a national cemetery to someone who has committed a Federal or State capital crime, the Department claims it does not have the authority to exhume the remains if an ineligible veteran was buried mistakenly in one of their cemeteries.
Read the legislation here.