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Coats’ bill to disinter dishonored vet now law

President Barack Obama signed into law legislation directing federal officials to disinter from a national cemetery the remains of a military veteran who killed an Indiana woman.

Obama signed the Alicia Dawn Koehl Respect for Cemeteries Act on Friday. Koehl was killed in a May 30, 2012, shooting rampage that also injured three people at an Indianapolis apartment complex where she worked.

Koehl, 45 and the mother of two children, was married to Paul Koehl, a graduate of Snider High School. His parents, Frank and Carol Koehl, live in Fort Wayne.

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., authored the legislation, which was sponsored in the House by Rep. Susan Brooks, R-5th.

“While no law can bring back a wonderful wife and mother, I hope that today provides Alicia’s family with some sense of closure,” Coats said. “This law corrects an unacceptable mistake and protects the integrity of our national cemeteries by ensuring our veterans can bury their loved ones among heroes.”

Federal law prohibits the burial in national cemeteries of veterans who committed capital crimes, including treason, murder and rape with additional bodily harm. Yet Koehl’s killer – Michael LaShawn Anderson, who took his life after the shootings – was buried with military honors at taxpayer expense at Fort Custer Military Cemetery in Augusta, Mich.

The Department of Veterans Affairs had told the Koehl family and Coats that it lacked statutory authority to remove the remains of veterans buried by mistake in national cemeteries. Coats’ bill grants that authority and requires that Anderson’s remains be taken out of Fort Custer.

This is the first bill introduced by Coats that has become law since he rejoined the Senate in 2011 after a 12-year absence. The Senate passed the measure by unanimous consent in November, and the House voted 398-1 in favor of it this month.

“The Koehl family showed tremendous resolve and integrity in their effort to correct an immense injustice and preserve the memory of a beloved mother, daughter and community leader,” Brooks said in a statement.

bfrancisco@jg.net

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