Military veterans and lawmakers rallied Wednesday at the state Capitol to reject Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed cut to state funding for honor guard details at veterans’ funerals.
The $469,533 cut to the Connecticut Honor Guard, which performs duties at state military funerals, would decrease the number of members on the detail. Veterans said the loss of funding would make it difficult to provide the full honorary services to veterans.
Through this service, the detail can be asked to carry the casket of the deceased, stand in line at the cemetery, and most commonly fire the volley of shots at the burial. The detachment also folds the flag over the casket and provides it to the spouse or next of kin. Veterans at the rally were outraged at the possibility of the ceremonial shots being eliminated with Malloy’s cut.
“Our veterans and their families who have sacrificed so much deserve no less than a complete detail rendering the final tribute given to them by the grateful citizens of the Constitution State,” VFW State Commander Greg Smith said.
Veterans were insulted by the budget cut. “To be honored in death is our time-honored right. When I heard about these cuts, I was traumatized,” Micah Welintukonis, who organized the event, said.
Connecticut loses an average of 3,500 veterans per year, according to Rep. Tim Ackert, R-Coventry. Through a combination of state and federal funding, the honor guard detail is paid only $134, which can cover multiple services over the span of one day.
Angelina Santa Maria, who lost her stepbrother in Baghdad in 2007, said that the honor guard services were what made her brother’s memorial special.
“No veteran should have their honor reduced,” Santa Maria said.
Last month, Senate Democratic leaders vowed to restore the funding when the legislature’s two budget writing committees release their budget later this month. A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers attended the rally to show their support.
Rep. Frank Nicastro, D-Bristol, was a member of numerous honor guard details, including the one at his own father’s funeral. “I won’t support a budget that doesn’t put money in it for military funerals,” he said.
“There is strength in remembering. This is important,” Rep. David Alexander, D-Enfield, a ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee and a former Marine, said.
Malloy said at a press conference last month that he has great respect for veterans and believes his administration was “surgical” in making budget cuts to close a $1.3 billion deficit.
Captain Mike Petersen, director of public affairs for the Connecticut National Guard, said Wednesday that the bottom line is “every eligible veteran will continue to receive military honors, including the presentation of the flag and the playing of taps. that will not change — and our veterans will continue to get the final tribute they have earned through their honorable and faithful service, but just with a smaller honor guard.”
Petersen said Connecticut is unique in its funding of this service.
“Connecticut has gone above and beyond what many other states across the country do to honor their veterans in this capacity, and ultimately, this budget proposal eliminates the need to cut other, less resilient programs,” Petersen said Wednesday in an email.
But the funding is more than symbolic for veterans.
Smith hopes that lawmakers live up to the full letter and intent of state statute 27-76, which already requires an honor guard detail at the funeral of a veteran of the United States armed forces or the National Guard.
“The American veteran has fought the good fight. Burial honors are the very least we can do for them,” American Legion Department of Connecticut Senior Vice Commander Paul Spedaliere said.