WASHINGTON – A Massachusetts mother who lost her only son in Iraq has won her nearly two-year fight for the right of parents like herself to be buried alongside their children in national veterans cemeteries.
"I'm elated," Denise Anderson said in a phone interview Thursday with The Associated Press. "I have peace in my heart now that I know I can be buried with him. It's like, finally I can take a breath."
Anderson was the driving force behind a bill to allow some parents of fallen soldiers to be buried next to their children in national military cemeteries that Congress approved on Wednesday.
The Corey Shea Act was named for a 21-year-old Army specialist from Mansfield, Mass. who was killed in Iraq in 2008 and was buried at Massachusetts National Cemetery.
The bill would allow burial privileges for some biological or adoptive parents of service members who are buried in the 131 cemeteries run by the Veterans Affairs Department's National Cemetery Administration. The bill does not apply to burials at Arlington National Cemetery, which is maintained by the Army.
The VA turned down a request by Anderson to be buried in the same plot with her son. The law said only veterans, their spouses and minor children were eligible. Shea was single and childless.
Anderson worked with Massachusetts lawmakers to push the bill. She wrote hundreds of letters to House and Senate members, always including a photo of her son.
"I wanted them to be able to see his face," she said.
Under the bill, parents would be allowed burial space if their deceased veteran sons and daughters had no living spouse or minor children, and if there is available space at the gravesite. The service member must have been killed in battle or in preparation for battle.
The bill, part of a larger measure on veterans benefits, now goes to President Obama's desk.
The bill is H.R. 3219.