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28th Legislature(2013-2014)

Bill Text 28th Legislature


00 Enrolled SJR 24                                                                                                         
01 Relating to certain holiday practices at federal Veterans Health Administration facilities.                             
02                                          _______________                                                                
03 BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF ALASKA:                                                             
04      WHEREAS, in December 2013, federal Veterans Health Administration facilities in                                  
05 Texas, Georgia, Iowa, and Alabama violated the religious freedom rights of convalescing                                 
06 veterans in their care; and                                                                                             
07      WHEREAS a Veterans Health Administration hospital in Dallas, Texas, did not                                      
08 distribute to the veterans in its care holiday cards that used certain language, including "Merry                       
09 Christmas" and "God bless you"; and                                                                                     
10      WHEREAS a Veterans Health Administration hospital in Augusta, Georgia, denied                                    
11 Christmas carolers from the local high school the opportunity to sing in public areas of the                            
12 hospital; and                                                                                                           
13      WHEREAS two other Veterans Health Administration facilities in Iowa and Alabama                                  
14 prohibited the distribution of Christmas gifts and Christmas gift bags; and                                             
15      WHEREAS a Veterans Health Administration official cited the policy of the Veterans                               
01 Health Administration for the nondistribution of the holiday cards; and                                                 
02      WHEREAS the Veterans Health Administration official stated that, in order to                                     
03 respect veterans' religious beliefs, all donated holiday cards are reviewed by a                                        
04 multidisciplinary team of staff led by the chaplaincy services to determine whether the cards                           
05 are appropriate and can be freely distributed to patients; and                                                          
06      WHEREAS the Veterans Health Administration official stated that the process for                                  
07 reviewing holiday cards was not fully explained to the particular group involved and                                    
08 apologized for any misunderstanding; and                                                                                
09      WHEREAS the officials at the Veterans Health Administration facilities described in                              
10 this resolution ignored the policies established by the United States Secretary of Veterans                             
11 Affairs regarding holiday practices at the facilities; and                                                              
12      WHEREAS those holiday cards, gifts, and presentations came from caring citizens,                                 
13 including young children, who took the time to recognize the heroic actions of men and                                  
14 women who have sacrificed so much in the service of their country in times of both peace and                            
15 war; and                                                                                                                
16      WHEREAS, although Christmas Day has origins in religious beliefs, it is recognized                               
17 as a civic holiday for federal employees; and                                                                           
18      WHEREAS the Veterans Health Administration violates the right to religious                                       
19 freedom of the veterans in its care by not allowing them to receive certain holiday cards and                           
20 gifts and to attend certain presentations;                                                                              
21      BE IT RESOLVED that the Alaska State Legislature condemns the actions of the                                     
22 Veterans Health Administration officials that prohibited religious holiday messages, music,                             
23 and gifts from being conveyed to veterans at Veterans Health Administration facilities and                              
24 respectfully requests that the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs ensure that the                              
25 violations of veterans' rights described in this resolution do not occur again; and be it                               
26      FURTHER RESOLVED that the Alaska State Legislature respectfully requests that                                    
27 the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs reconsider the policies on holiday practices at                         
28 Veterans Health Administration facilities and rewrite those policies so that the violations of                          
29 veterans' rights described in this resolution do not occur again; and be it                                             
30      FURTHER RESOLVED that the Alaska State Legislature finds it very troubling that                                  
31 the established policies and procedures of the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs on                           
01 holiday practices at the Veterans Health Administration facilities are apparently being ignored                         
02 and respectfully requests that the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs review the                               
03 present established policies on holiday practices at Veterans Health Administration facilities                          
04 and train personnel on those policies so that the apparent violations of veterans' rights                               
05 described in this resolution do not occur again; and be it                                                              
06      FURTHER RESOLVED that the Alaska State Legislature respectfully requests that                                    
07 the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs provide each member of the Alaska State                                 
08 Legislature with a written assurance that the actions of the Veterans Health Administration                             
09 officials described in this resolution do not reflect the policies on holiday practices at                              
10 Veterans Health Administration facilities.                                                                              
11      COPIES of this resolution shall be sent to the Honorable Barack Obama, President of                              
12 the United States; the Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Vice-President of the United States and                          
13 President of the U.S. Senate; the Honorable John Boehner, Speaker of the U.S. House of                                  
14 Representatives; the Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the U.S. House of                                       
15 Representatives; the Honorable Harry Reid, Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate; the                                      
16 Honorable Mitch McConnell, Minority Leader of the U.S. Senate; the Honorable Bernie                                     
17 Sanders, Chair, U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs; the Honorable Richard Burr,                                 
18 Ranking Member, U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs; the Honorable Eric K.                                       
19 Shinseki, United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs; Verdie Bowen, Director, Office of                                
20 Veterans Affairs, Alaska Department of Military and Veterans' Affairs; Susan Yeager,                                    
21 Director, Alaska VA Healthcare System; the Honorable Lisa Murkowski and the Honorable                                   
22 Mark Begich, U.S. Senators, and the Honorable Don Young, U.S. Representative, members of                                
23 the Alaska delegation in Congress; and all other members of the 113th United States                                     
24 Congress.                                                                                                               
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