Veterans medals program needs more state funds

Friday, February 1, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A state program to honor World War II veterans with medals cost just a fraction of what was expected but expired Jan. 1 before many veterans could submit applications.

Now, lawmakers are proposing to use the extra money to restart the program.

The House passed legislation Thursday that would reopen the application period through July 1, 2003. The measure now goes to the Senate, where it also is expected to pass.

The program provides a medal and certificate to any living veteran who served in the U.S. military between Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 30, 1945, so long as they were not dishonorably discharged.

Assuming that each medal would cost $50, legislators last year appropriated $3 million for the program.

As it turned out, the medals cost just $7 a piece and the total program cost about $400,000, said Rep. Bill Ransdall, D-Waynesville, who is sponsoring the bill to renew the program.

About 35,000 veterans applied to the adjutant general's office last year and were approved for the medals, but about 500 applications have arrived after the deadline.

Ransdall said about 150,000 of the 470,000 Missourians who served in World War II are still alive and able to qualify for the medals. Many only heard of the program after their peers showed off their medals, he said.

There appeared to be unanimous support Thursday among House members to extend the program, and to do so quickly.

As Rep. Don Koller, D-Summersville, said: "These people who served in World War II are dying by the thousands each week."

Yet lawmakers will have to make an important clarification in the bill in order to avoid running up costs in a tight budget year.

Resuming the program is projected by legislative researchers to cost more than $700,000.

After it expired, the medal program had $2.6 million left over. But, as is often the case in government, that money quickly was claimed for another use.

The law authorizing the program prescribed that leftover cash should be transferred to a fund that pays buglers to play at veterans' funerals.

Senators will have to amend the House bill with language allowing the money to be reclaimed from the buglers' fund. Otherwise, the renewed program would be vying for a share of the state's general tax revenues.

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