Flags placed for Memorial Day at Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon, Calif.

Flags placed for Memorial Day at Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon, Calif. (Daniel Peterson/U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON — Rep. Mike Waltz introduced legislation on Tuesday calling on the Pentagon to cover costs to transport the remains of troops from hometown memorial services to national cemeteries.

“As a combat veteran, I think we can agree that the Gold Star families of our fallen must be cared for by providing them the lifelong benefits worthy of their sacrifice upon the altar of freedom,” Waltz, R-Fla., said in a statement. “The intent of this benefit is to provide grieving families, friends and communities the dignity to honor their fallen heroes with a memorial service in their hometowns, before going to their final place of rest at a national cemetery.”

The bill, which is called the Abbey Gate Gold Star Families Dignified Transport Act, co-sponsored by Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Cory Mills, R-Fla., builds on previous legislation by Waltz and Moulton. Prior to 2020, the Pentagon would only pay to transport remains to one location. If a family wanted to have a service in their hometown, the family would have to pay the transport costs for the burial at Arlington National Cemetery, Va.

The provision from Waltz and Moulton ended up in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual bill that specifies the Defense Department’s budget and expenditures. However, the law states families would be assisted with costs via reimbursement from the Pentagon.

The new legislation clarifies the intent of Congress by having the Defense Department cover the costs at the outset, to Arlington or another national cemetery, and reduce stress on the grieving families. Waltz, who served in the Army and National Guard, became aware of this issue after hearing about it directly from some of the Abbey Gate families, according to his staff.

The name of the bill recognizes the 13 service men and women who were killed in the Abbey Gate bombing at the Kabul airport during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. The withdrawal, which ended Aug. 31, 2021, concluded 20 years of war in Afghanistan for the United States.

“Every U.S. service member signs a blank check, payable with their lives. When tragedy strikes and a service member does not return home, no grieving family should ever be saddled with a bill for a hometown memorial service, even if it will be later reimbursed,” Moulton, a Marine veteran, said in a statement. “The very least we can do for new members of the Gold Star community is to remove the initial stress of having to cover up-front costs. At an extremely difficult time, families deserve to focus only on saying goodbye.”

Mills, an Army combat veteran, was elected to Congress in the 2022 midterm elections.

The bill has been referred to the House Armed Services Committee.

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Matthew Adams covers the Defense Department at the Pentagon. His past reporting experience includes covering politics for The Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle and The News and Observer. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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