VA outflanked

Nevada’s state government went around the Bush administration and told the widow of a soldier killed in Iraq that she could have the symbol he wanted on his gravestone.

The gravestone is supposed to be supplied by the federal government as part of the soldier’s benefits, but the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs does not recognize the late Patrick Stewart’s Wiccan faith and so declined to provide the symbol his family chose on the grave marker. A spokesperson for the department, Jo Schuda, said in July that the lack of a central church headquarters was one of the causes of a delayed decision by the VA on whether to recognize Wicca, but then she noted that there is no requirement for such a headquarters before a faith is accepted by the agency. The long delay perplexed many officials, Democrat and Republican, and veterans groups who pushed the department to resolve the matter in the family’s favor.

Wicca is recognized by other agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service. And the VA itself accepts a variety of beliefs and doctrines, including atheism, allowing the symbols of all of them on grave markers. The Army newspaper Stars & Stripes reported that 1,800 Wiccans are presently serving in the armed forces.

In the end, the Nevada attorney general’s office provided a formal legal opinion that said the VA’s approval is not needed and the Wiccan pentacle will be placed on Stewart’s plaque on the Fernley Veterans Cemetery memorial wall.

Meanwhile, the VA continues deliberating.