USA Today says Confederates are not vets so their graves are not protected by same laws as US veterans


By Sarah Lynch -USA Today

The claim: In 1958, Congress passed a law giving Confederate veterans the same legal status as U.S. veterans. Thus, damaging Confederate monuments defiles U.S. veterans.

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, protestors toppled a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Virginia. Cities from Jacksonville, Florida, to Louisville, Kentucky, removed statues of Confederate soldiers. This is not the first push to remove these monuments –– after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned deadly in 2017, a number of Confederate monuments came down.

Floyd’s killing at the hands of police reinvigorated the movement to remove certain statues and monuments, and inspired debate, resulting in an executive order from President Donald Trump on Friday aimed at protecting such monuments from violence and vandalism.

Facebook post from Donnie Johnson on June 11 claims that with U.S. Public Law 85-425, Section 410, in 1958, Congress gave Confederate veterans the same legal status as U.S. veterans. “Those desecrating Confederate graves and Confederate monuments are defiling United States veterans, same as WWI, WWII, Korean, Vietnam, or Middle East vets. Let’s see you print this,” the post continues.

U.S. Public Law 85-425, Section 410, actually provided pensions to Confederate widows

The law that the Facebook post cites –– U.S. Public Law 85-425, Section 410 –– amended Section 432 of the Veterans’ Benefit Act of 1957 (Public Law 85-56), which grants pensions to Confederate widows. Section 433, which grants a pension to Confederate veterans’ children when there is no widow, was also amended.

This amendment to the Veterans’ Benefit Act does indeed expand the definition of “veteran” to include “a person who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War.” However, the act also clearly specifies that this inclusion applies “for the purpose of this section, and section 433,” which Jessica Owley, professor of law at the University of Miami, interpreted as a limited extension.

“This language indicates that this definition of veteran only applies for this specific reason. Congress specifically chose to state that this definition was for the purposes of the pensions,” Owley said.

While Confederate veterans receive some benefits, they are still not recognized as U.S. veterans

This Facebook post specifically mentions Confederate graves and monuments, likely in reference to a decision from Congress that provided for “headstones or markers at the expense of the United States for the unmarked graves” of Confederate soldiers in the Civil War. While this act did grant Confederate veterans some benefits also allotted to U.S. war veterans, it does not confer on Confederate veterans equal status as U.S. veterans.

When President Andrew Johnson granted pardon and amnesty to all Confederate soldiers in 1868, this restored to them “all rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and the laws which have been made in pursuance thereof;” however, this did not grant them veteran status.

The definition of “veteran,” as specified by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, does not include Confederate armed forces. Les’ A. Melnyk, chief of public affairs and outreach for the National Cemetery Administration, part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, provided further clarification:

“While federal law authorizes some benefits for former Confederates, such as the marking of unmarked graves of Confederate service members outside VA national cemeteries, this does not confer U.S. Veteran status for other VA benefits to those affected,” Melnyk said.

Our rating: False

The claim that Confederate veterans maintain the same legal status as U.S. veterans is FALSE. Confederate veterans’ widows and children received pensions after congressional action, but that action in itself did not declare those soldiers to be full U.S. veterans. The very definition of a U.S. veteran never expanded to include Confederate soldiers –– even when they were granted amnesty by President Andrew Johnson.

Our fact-checked sources:

Donnie Johnson, Facebook post

BBC News, June 11, 2020 – Confederate and Columbus statues toppled by US protesters

Business Insider, June 10, 2020 – 10 Confederate leaders who still have monuments and places named after them all over the US

New York Times, Aug. 28, 2017 – From 2017: Confederate Monuments Are Coming Down Across the United States. Here’s a List.

The White House, Executive Order on Protecting American Monuments, Memorials, and Statues and Combating Recent Criminal Violence

U.S. Public Law 85-425, Section 410

Veterans’ Benefit Act of 1957

Veterans’ Benefits, §2306

Library of Congress, December 25, 1868, proclamation

U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Determining Veteran Status

U.S. Department of Justice, 1666. DESTRUCTION OF GOVERNMENT PROPERTY — 18 U.S.C. § 1361

Veterans’ Memorial Preservation and Recognition Act of 2003

North Carolina General Assembly, § 100-2.1.

Sarah Lynch is an intern for the Asbury Park Press and the editor-in-chief for the Marist Circle at Marist College. Reach her at SDLynch@gannett.com or via Twitter at @sarahdlynch.

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