It’s not unusual for funeral homes to have cremated remains that haven’t been claimed by a deceased’s family, and sometimes those remains are former service members who qualify to be interred in veterans cemeteries.
Under a bill that won approval in the Colorado House on Thursday, private groups recognized by the U.S. Veterans Affairs and the National Personnel Records Center that are dedicated to finding remains of such veterans would be allowed to locate and help direct them to state or national cemeteries for veterans.
“There are some funeral homes that allow this, but there are some that are not as comfortable allowing it,” said Rep. Janice Rich, a Grand Junction Republican who introduced House Bill 1051 with Rep. Monica Duran, D-Wheat Ridge. “It’s important because when soldiers are on the battlefield, they know that they don’t want to leave any soldier behind. The veterans feel the same way. They don’t want to leave a veteran behind, even in death. It’s important that they receive the military observance that they deserve.”
Rich said that such groups as the Missing In America Project, which began searching for unclaimed veteran remains in 2007, need the legal footing with funeral homes to allow them to do their work.
While the bill ultimately cleared the House on a unanimous vote on Thursday, some Republican lawmakers tried to tack an amendment onto the bill Wednesday to disallow veteran remains to be used for human composting.
That was in reference to another measure working its way through the Legislature, HB1060, that would create a third option for dealing with the deceased, a new process known as natural reduction.
That process calls for placing human remains into a special container that helps convert them into soil. That soil can then be claimed by family members to create memorial gardens or trees. The process is similar to livestock composting, which has been around for decades.
Some Republican lawmakers, however, said they thought that was too undignified for veterans, even though the process is not intended for remains that have already been cremated.
“(The amendment) simply adds the words, ‘veterans’ remains shall not be composted for natural organic reduction, or otherwise treated like dirt,’” said Rep. Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance. “I think we really do need to be careful that we are treating the remains of deceased service members with the utmost respect and reverence.”
Rep. Matt Soper, a Delta Republican who introduced the human composting bill with Rep. Brianna Titone, D-Arvada — and a co-sponsor of Rich’s bill — said veterans, like everyone else, should have a choice of what to do with their remains.
“Someone who is a veteran, and in life chooses natural organic reduction, if they happen to serve our country they would be denied freedom of choice,” Soper said. “What this amendment actually does is say to a citizen, ‘You may have served our country, but you can’t choose all the legal methods of disposition because of that choice to serve our country.’”
Rich’s bill heads to the Senate, where Sens. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, and Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, will see it through the rest of the legislative process. Meanwhile, Soper’s human composting measure is to be heard in the House Energy & Environment Committee on Monday.