The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

November 23, 2012

State won’t have to limit military funeral honors

Marc Levy
Associated Press

HARRISBURG — A limit on taxpayer-paid military funeral honors to burials within 100 miles of Philadelphia and central Pennsylvania has been lifted by the state National Guard after it received a commitment for more federal money, a state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs spokeswoman said Friday.

Two Republican state senators, Joe Scarnati of Jefferson County and Lisa Baker of Luzerne County, had protested the policy in a letter this week asking Adjutant Gen. Wesley Craig to reverse it. The senators said they were shocked that an arbitrary limit had been set without notice or consultation and that it affected service personnel living in several urban centers, numerous small communities and extensive rural areas.

But Craig’s spokeswoman, Joan Nissley, said additional federal money received within the past week or two from the National Guard Bureau resolved the need for a limit.

An Oct. 11 memo from a department official to a funeral home in Warren, a small northwest Pennsylvania city, cited “various fiscal restraints” for the 100-mile limit from agency offices in Philadelphia and Annville, Lebanon County, but it did not elaborate.

Nissley said her agency created the limit after initially being told to expect a 30 percent reduction in federal aid starting last month, when the federal fiscal year began.

Federal money, not state money, pays for the service for honorably discharged veterans at no cost to families or funeral homes, she said.

Because Pennsylvania has no active army installation with personnel to provide the service, it falls to the Pennsylvania National Guard, Nissley said.

Nissley said she was unaware of anyone being denied military funeral honors in Pennsylvania in recent weeks, but she also said that funeral directors can contact Fort Meade in Maryland to request the service from personnel stationed there. Funeral directors will receive a letter clarifying the policy, she said.

Nissley said Scarnati and Baker were not apprised of the limit when it be­came necessary because the money was from the federal government and not part of the $27.7 billion state budget that Gov. Tom Corbett signed June 30.

State military personnel provided honors at about 3,600 burials in the 12 months that ended Sept. 30, Nissley said.

 

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