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Senate Approves Ban on 'Lifers' from National Cemeteries

The Senate on Wednesday accepted a proposed ban on military funerals for veterans convicted of capital offenses.

The ban will be an amendment to the Senate version of the 2006 military spending bill, according to Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., who co-sponsored the measure with Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee. To become law, the amendment also must be accepted by a House-Senate conference committee, survive a final vote in both houses and be signed by the president.

The amendment would eliminate burial benefits and funeral honors for any veteran convicted of a federal or state capital offense. The remains of such individuals would be barred from military and veterans' cemeteries, and they would be ineligible for military honors such as a flag-folding ceremony and the playing of "Taps" in private cemeteries.

The proposal stems in part from the placement in Arlington National Cemetery in July of the remains of Russell Wayne Wagner, 52, a Vietnam veteran convicted of murdering an elderly couple in Hagerstown, Md. in 1994. The victims' children complained, prompting a review of military funeral rules. Craig has another bill pending that would force removal of Wagner's ashes from Arlington.

Congress passed a law in 1997 prohibiting people convicted of capital crimes and sentenced to death or life imprisonment without parole from being interred at military cemeteries. The proposed amendment would strike language regarding the type of sentence the person received.