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S. 646 (116th): Full Military Honors Act of 2019


The ceremony includes a military band, horse-drawn carriage, and up to 70 uniformed personnel.

Context

Any current or retired military member, except those who were dishonorably discharged, are eligible for a military funeral. The highest level of funeral is called “full military honors,” a ceremony which includes a military band, horse-drawn carriage, and up to 70 personnel. (The minimum personnel for a regular military funeral is two people.)

Under current law, a full military honors funeral is only eligible for members killed in combat and senior officers.

What the legislation does

The Full Military Honors Act would also allow Medal of Honor recipients and prisoners of war to obtain a full military honors funeral. There are currently 103 living Medal of Honor recipients.

The House version was introduced on February 6, 2019 as bill number H.R. 1019, by Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA20). The Senate version was introduced a month later on March 5, 2019 as bill number S. 646, by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the legislation corrects an existing imbalance, in which deceased military members who are ostensibly as deserving of the highest type of burial are currently ineligible.

“This legislation provides Medal of Honor and Prisoners Of War heroes the recognition they deserve for their unwavering service to our country,” Rep. Panetta said in a press release. “Full military honors ceremonies remind us of the service and valor demonstrated by those who have defended, protected, and sacrificed for freedom and democracy.”

“Rank is not the sole or final measure of service to this country,” Sen. Cotton said in a separate press release. “The dignity of a fallen servicemember’s interment should be measured by their courage, not simply the insignia on their sleeves or shoulders. The Senate passed this bill once before and we should move quickly to pass it again, to show our servicemembers and their families that the United States will always honor its veterans appropriately for their service.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that the legislation could greatly increase waiting times for the burials of those who qualify.

Currently, prisoners of war wait about two to four weeks for military funeral honors at Arlington National Cemetery. “If POWs got put into the full honors with escort queue and we only do eight of those a day, because we don’t have the resources to do any more than eight a day, those POWs could wait eight or nine months to be buried,” the cemetery’s director of public affairs told the military-centered publication Task & Purpose.

Odds of passage

The previous Senate version passed in December 2018 by a voice vote, usually used for relatively noncontroversial bills, in which no record of individual votes is cast. But with less than two weeks remaining in that Congress, it never received a House vote.

The previous House version from 2018 attracted 77 bipartisan cosponsors: 43 Republicans and 34 Democrats. It never received a vote in the chamber.

The current House version has attracted a larger 131 bipartisan cosponsors: 71 Democrats and 60 Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Armed Services Committee.

The current Senate version has attracted three bipartisan cosponsors: two Democrats and one Republican.

Odds of enactment seem reasonable, especially if one chamber passes it before late December, unlike the previous Senate.

Last updated Mar 22, 2020. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Mar 5, 2019.


Full Military Honors Act of 2019

This bill requires full military honors to be provided for the funerals of certain veterans. Specifically, a veteran shall receive full military honors if the veteran (1) is first interred or inurned in Arlington National Cemetery, (2) was awarded the medal of honor or the prisoner-of-war medal, and (3) is not entitled to full military honors because of such veteran's grade.