WASHINGTON -- When Agostino Guzzo died two years ago, his wife, Sandra, made what she thought was a simple request to the Department of Veterans Affairs: give her a grave marker to honor his military service.
''I knew how much having served meant to him, how much this country meant to him,'' said Guzzo, whose husband emigrated from Italy as a boy and joined the Army when he was 19.
But the VA turned her down, citing a policy dating to the Civil War that allows markers or headstones only for eligible veterans in graves not otherwise marked. The veteran's name, dates of birth and death and military branch may be inscribed, and any cemetery may be used.
''I was so surprised,'' said Guzzo, who began a quest with her family to change the policy and gained a victory last week when the Senate backed their effort.
Guzzo, who lived in West Hartford, Conn., and died at age 70 in April 1998, was not eligible because he was encrypted in a mausoleum that included his name.
After the VA rejected the family's request, Guzzo's son, Tom, started writing letters to anyone he could think of. ''I got on the Internet, I talked to anyone who would talk to me,'' he said.
In October 1998, he spoke with Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who promised to help if he was assured the bill would benefit more than one family.
Dodd learned the Guzzos were not a special case.
''There are people like them all across the country who should be able to place their fathers, brothers and uncles in final resting places with a clear indication they served their country. It's the least we can do,'' he said.
Dodd took on the cause, but the process moved at slow pace.
Tom Guzzo pushed on, once driving to meet Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., face-to-face to get his promise of support.
The measure passed as an amendment to the Senate's defense authorization bill but still must be squared with the House version, which does not contain a similar provision.
The VA has expressed some reservations about the bill, though it supports it in general.
''In our experience, the requirement that a veteran's grave be unmarked is, as a practical matter, difficult to enforce and easily circumvented,'' Assistant VA Secretary Dennis Duffy wrote to Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. For example, families of veterans will request the markers, then furnish their own headstone as well, Duffy said. VA rules prohibit ''double-marked'' graves.
The VA opposes a section of the bill that would make it retroactive out of concern that would overwhelm the agency's resources. It also opposes a provision that would allow a marker to be placed somewhere other than a graveyard, saying it is inappropriate.
So Sandra Guzzo waits.
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