Clinton mulls over legislation for Alaska Native war casualties

Posted: Friday, December 22, 2000

FAIRBANKS -- At the end of a twisted legislative path, a bill that would benefit survivors of Alaska Natives who died in the Vietnam needs only President Clinton's signature.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Don Young and Sen. Frank Murkowski, would let survivors apply for as much as 160 acres of land.

The land parcels, called allotments, would be available only to survivors of veterans who had not previously applied and who had died in the war between 1964 and 1971.

The House and Senate passed identical language in October. But they were attached to unrelated bills that had other differences that weren't resolved by the two houses. Neither bill, however, went to the president for his signature.

On Dec. 11, the Senate agreed to the version that the House passed in October, clearing it for a signature. The bill was sent to the president four days later.

The legislation amends an act passed two years ago under which living Native veterans who served between 1969 and 1971 can apply for allotments. The new bill doesn't change that offer, and the application period is open. The idea is to extend the allotment offer, which expired in 1971 with passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, to veterans who might not have heard about it because of their service.

This year, Young and Murkowski wanted to expand that eligibility to the entire Vietnam War era, 1964 to 1975. However, Clinton administration officials opposed the bill, saying it wouldn't be fair. The allotment program ended in 1971, they noted, and wasn't available to any Alaska Natives after that date.

In the end, the administration agreed only to extend eligibility to survivors of soldiers who died in the war before 1971 without applying.

Representatives of Alaska Native groups had testified in Washington in favor of extending the allotment offer to survivors of all deceased Vietnam veterans, whether they died in the war or not.

It makes no sense to allow living veterans from 1969 to 1971 to apply while prohibiting applications from the survivors of veterans from the same period who died of some non-combat-related cause, said Walter Sampson of the Northwest Arctic Borough. He said both groups of veterans ''missed the same opportunity to apply while serving their country.''

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