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Editorial: Legislature moves to cover funeral costs of Guard members killed in state service

Editorial: Legislature moves to cover funeral costs of Guard members killed in state service

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2. Oklahoma National Guard (copy)

Members of the Oklahoma National Guard worked night and day along the flood-weakened levees during 2019 flooding in Tulsa.

Here’s an idea no one seems to be against: The state should pick up the funeral costs of Oklahoma National Guard members killed in the line of duty to the state.

House Bill 2374 would provide up to $10,000 in funeral cost reimbursement for heroes of the Oklahoma National Guard or Oklahoma Air National Guard who die in the line of duty while on state active service.

It’s hard to believe that such a provision was missing from state law, but it was.

The measure, authored by Rep. Dean Davis of Broken Arrow and Sen. David Bullard of Durant passed both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature without a single no vote. We expect Gov. Kevin Stitt to sign the bill into law and urge him to do so.

Federal benefits already cover members of the U.S. military — including nationally activated members of Guard units — who are killed in the line of federal duty.

But Guard members activated for state service, such as in the event of a weather emergency or a civil disturbance, aren’t eligible for those federal benefits.

In fact, until HB 2374, they weren’t eligible for any funeral benefits beyond insurance.

Davis described a nightmare example of two Guard members, one part of a federally activated unit and the other serving on a state call-up, dying side by side. The funeral expenses of one’s family would be well covered. The other’s would get nothing.

While federally activated Oklahoma Guard members have died in recent action in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is thankfully rare for them to die in state service.

Davis said he isn’t aware of any recent applicable example in Oklahoma, although Oklahoma Guard soldiers certainly have been put in potentially dangerous positions, such as dealing with emergencies in Tulsa’s 2019 flooding and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Davis said the lack of a funeral benefit for activated Guard member has become an issue in other states.

We’re glad that Davis, Bullard and the other members of the Oklahoma Legislature recognized the omission before it became a financial burden to a local family facing a tragedy.

The men and women of the Oklahoma National Guard serve their state and nation at significant risk to themselves. The state should certainly honor those who die in its service by covering their family’s funeral costs. It’s a moral obligation to those who serve with courage and patriotism.

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