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Hmong- and Lao-American vets in St. Paul to push for expanded burial eligibility

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Memorial honors US, Alliance troops in Laos
Veterans listen during the dedication ceremony for the Minnesota Memorial for the United States and Alliance Special Forces in Laos in June 2016 on the State Capitol grounds.
Peter Cox | MPR News file

About 200 Hmong- and Lao-American veterans from around the country are gathering in St. Paul this weekend to address the question of who can be buried in United States veterans cemeteries.

A law passed last year allows for Hmong- and Lao-American veterans who served in the U.S. "secret army" in Laos during the Vietnam War, and their spouses, to be buried or cremated at the cemeteries. But the law only applies to vets naturalized as citizens after the year 2000.

Pa Lee is the daughter of William Lee, a Hmong veteran who assisted the CIA.

"I know because I am my father's oldest daughter. I've lived through it. I know what he has gone through, and not only that, so many friends and families and relatives have served with the U.S. to help them," she said.

Under the law as it is written, her father would not be allowed a burial in a veterans cemetery, Lee said.

Phillip Smith, executive director of the Center for Public Policy Analysis in Washington, D.C., said the law has a "technical glitch" that causes at least 50 percent of Hmong veterans and Lao veterans, and their families, to be excluded.

Attendees at the conference will discuss efforts to potentially to expand the law.

The fourth annual Lao Hmong Veterans National Conference started Friday and continues Saturday.