Family members of vets who made the ultimate sacrifice now allowed to participate in LoC projectThe Gold Star Families Voice Act Signed into Law
Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) announced today that the Gold Star Families Voices Act (HR 4511)—which expands the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project (VHP) to include family members of veterans who died as a result of their service or who are missing in action—has been signed into law.
Smith’s legislation was approved by a unanimous voice vote in the House on September 6, 2016 and by a unanimous 97-0 vote in the Senate on November 15th.
“The new law honors the men and women who gave ‘the last full measure of devotion’ in the service of our nation by allowing family members to tell their stories on their behalf,” said Smith, who served as chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and authored more than a dozen laws to expand the benefits and services provided to our nation’s veterans and surviving family members. “The Veterans History Project is designed to help preserve and catalog the memories of our nation’s veterans so that current and future generations may hear and better appreciate the realities of war and the sacrifices borne by those who served in uniform.
“With enactment of this legislation, we are adding new voices to this rich history project—and recording the sacrifices of all who have served. Family members will now have the opportunity to create a lasting record of their fallen loved ones.”
Congress created the Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress in 2000 to collect and catalog the stories of American war veterans. The project has been a great success. Earlier this year, the Library announced that it reached a milestone: it has collected more than 100,000 testimonies of veterans who have served in military engagements since World War I in a permanent record.
Until today, the project accepted only first-hand accounts of living veterans, unintentionally leaving out the men and women who did not return from the battlefield. Under Smith’s law, immediate family members can now participate on a veteran’s behalf including parents, spouses, siblings and/or children.
“The Gold Star Families Voices Act would not be law today without the tireless advocacy of the Gold Star Mothers organization. They are an inspiration; having lost their children in service to our nation, they continue to successfully work to better meet the needs of veterans and their families. They have turned their grief into advocacy: working for veterans, for military families, and especially, for the memories of their children,” Smith continued. “Allowing them to share these memories ensures all Americans can hear, appreciate, remember, and honor these patriots.”
Smith’s bill is endorsed by the New Jersey Gold Star Mothers organization, whose President, Judi Tapper—the proud mother of Petty Officer First Class David Tapper, a Navy Seal who was killed in Afghanistan on August 20, 2003—stated: “Never in history has there been a forum to replace our heroes’ silenced voices. This legislation provides it. In their names, may their stories be told.”
The Second Vice President of the National American Gold Star Mothers, Inc., Becky Christmas, said: “Rep. Smith’s legislation gives our children a voice that they no longer have. The Gold Star Families Voices Act will ensure that the experiences and lives of all veterans, including our sons and daughters who fought and died for our country, are remembered, honored and preserved. As Gold Star Parents, we are encouraged to know that the bill is closer to becoming a reality. Our hearts are touched, that our children who gave so much, continue to be heard.”
TJ Fearon, former Vietnam-era Seabee, Gold Star Family Liaison, who brought the issue to Rep. Smith’s attention earlier this year said: “I am honored to have assisted in returning the Voices of my Brothers and Sisters in Arms that never returned. They now shall be properly remembered for their sacrifice.”
Senator Roy Blunt, who led the effort to pass this bill in the Senate, said: “We would not be the nation we are today if not for the profound acts of courage and selflessness of our fallen heroes. We, as Americans, owe it to these men and women to know their names, to honor their deeds, and to preserve their memories. The Gold Star Families Voices Act makes an invaluable project even better by giving the family members of our missing and fallen service members the opportunity to share their stories and ensure they become a part of our nation’s historical record. I thank American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. and Representative Chris Smith for championing this bill, and my Senate colleagues for getting it to the president’s desk.”