Koop Burial Waiver Defended
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Feb. 3) -- Amid criticism, the White House defended the 1994 waiver granted to former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop for burial at Arlington Cemetery when he dies.
"The president believes this is the right thing to do," White House spokesman Barry Toiv told Reuters Monday .
The Koop exemption is being questioned by Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.). Everett, chair of a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee, has charged that waivers for burial at the national cemetery are based on political influence.
Burial at Arlington is usually limited to those who have served in the military.
"The questions are about why was this waiver granted to a living person ... and the circumstances that seemed to surround it," a subcommittee aide said.
Waiver opponents say it was granted in 1994 when Koop's support was needed by President Bill Clinton for his ill-fated health reform plan.
The White House maintains that the waiver had nothing to do with Clinton's health care fight, and compared it to the posthumous Arlington waiver granted to the late Surgeon General Luther Terry. Terry implemented the Surgeon General's warning on cigarettes in the 1960s, and was granted a burial waiver by former President Ronald Reagan in 1985.
"The president granted this exemption because he believes that Dr. Koop has made an extraordinary contribution to the nation through his work on behalf of public health," Toiv said.
The 81-year-old Koop served as surgeon general from 1982 to 1989 under former presidents Reagan and George Bush. He served as the head of the U.S. Public Health Service, a rank equivalent to a Navy admiral, but is not an armed forces veteran.
According to the aide, Koop also appears to have served during World War II in the health service.
The health service has a history spanning over two centuries, beginning as a network of Merchant Marine hospitals. It is one of seven U.S. uniformed services and was reorganized along military lines in the 1870s.
Opponents contend that an Arlington burial is for armed forces veterans, not members of the health service. "The most dangerous weapons they're around is scalpels and needles," the aide said.
Everett intends to "vigorously" pursue this issue and may offer a resolution urging the withdrawal of the waiver by the White House, the aide said.
The concern over Arlington waivers began late last year when conservatives charged that waivers for burial were being granted to large Democratic donors. The controversy centered around a waiver granted to former Ambassador to Switzerland Larry Lawrence.
The Lawrence, a big Democratic donor, was granted a waiver based in part on his claim to have served and been wounded in the Merchant Marines in 1945. It was later learned that Lawrence never served and his widow had his body removed from Arlington and reburied in San Diego last December.