Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sinema bill honoring soldier burial wishes passes House

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – A bill that requires the state to honor the burial wishes of fallen soldiers passed the House today.

House Bill 2400, sponsored by Assistant House Democratic Leader Kyrsten Sinema, fixes an existing Arizona law that ignores the burial wishes of fallen soldiers and causes delays for the soldier’s family during a time of mourning.

“The Arizona men and women who put their lives on the lines each day to protect our country deserve to have their wishes respected,” Sinema said. “The very least that we can do to honor their sacrifice is to ensure that we honor their wishes in the event that they give their lives in the line of duty. Currently, Arizona law creates a roadblock after these soldiers give their lives, and that’s the last thing military families should have to deal with during a time of mourning.”

Sinema’s bill requires Arizona law to recognize that if a soldier died while serving in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, U.S. Reserve or National Guard, and they completed a U.S. Department of Defense record of burial wishes, the person the soldier listed on the form is the designated person to carry out their wishes.

Since 2006, active duty members must annually complete a federally mandated form to designate a person to take care of their remains. However, Arizona law designates arrangements for the dead in a descending order starting with the spouse, regardless of the soldier’s wishes on the federal form, and Arizona does not recognize the federal form, DD Form 93, as an equivalent document. This has lead to litigation between family members.

Laurie Crehan, representing the U.S. Department of Defense State Liaison Office, testified in committee in support of Sinema’s bill.

For example, Crehan said, a deceased soldier who was married but estranged from his wife, elected his mother as the person to take care of his remains on DD Form 93. The mother wanted to cremate the soldier, but the funeral home refused to cremate the remains without the wife's consent based on the rules of the state. The spouse was reluctant to sign the consent for cremation and only after a military attorney intervened, did the wife eventually consent. The situation, and the unnecessary delay it caused, could have been avoided if the state statute in question had referred to the DD Form 93.

“The proposed amendment to state law on disposition removes confusion for the family and enables funeral directors to confidently refer to a single document to approach the service member’s choice for directing the disposition of his or her remains,” Crehan said.

The bill passed the House unanimously with bipartisan support.

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