Lost in the Governor’s budget is a cut of $469,533 that eliminates funding of a stipend to veterans who participate in graveside ceremonial firing squads.

As a veteran who has attended too many military funerals to count and knowing what these honors mean to the families of the departed, I find the cut despicable.

It may be more than that.

This potential cut may ultimately violate state law. Section 27-76 of the Connecticut General Statutes states that the Connecticut National Guard is responsible for providing an honor guard firing squad for a Connecticut veteran’s burial. If the National Guard is predisposed then the Connecticut Adjutant General shall order the payment for a firing squad by “an honor guard detail from a bona fide Connecticut state veterans’ organization.” These “bona fide veterans’ organizations” consist of Post members within Connecticut’s American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars organizations who are officially trained to conduct these ceremonies.

Perhaps lost in the cut is that it also fails to honor our living veterans. Connecticut is unique in that we provide a small stipend of $50 to the veterans that provide this solemn service. Many of these veterans live on fixed incomes, and this small token of gratitude is meaningful to them.

Typically the Connecticut National Guard defers to a local veterans’ organization to fulfill funeral honors duty which provides a unique form of civic engagement by our state’s veterans. As someone who participated in funeral honors as a Marine reservist I can also attest to the costs savings attributed to paying a stipend to veterans compared to paying reservists to perform the same funeral duties.

Sergeant First Class Micah Welintukonis, a retired Army medic of Coventry, is an Iraqi War Purple Heart recipient and activist within the Connecticut Veterans Community. Micah would like this ceremony conducted for his family at his burial and is organizing a rally to discuss this issue on Wednesday, April 15th at noon at the state Capitol.

I will be attending. $50 is a small price for us to pay to honor a fallen service-member.

David Alexander is a state Representative for the 58th Assembly District, a former Marine officer and a member of the legislature’s Veterans Affairs Committee

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