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Veterans outraged over proposed cuts to military honors at funerals

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ROCKY HILL – Some veterans groups are outraged that one of the items cut from Gov. Dan Malloy’s proposed 2016/17 budget is funding for some honor guard detachment at veterans' funerals.

Specifically, the $469,533 cut would get rid of two members of the Connecticut Honor Guard, leaving a remaining three members of the federal honor guard to perform duties such as folding the flag, playing taps on the bugle and a rifle salute.

"We can't understand why a governor, who is living under the freedom they provided for him, and he's going to take that away. It's a slap in the face,” said Ronald Rusakiewicz, the adjutant for Connecticut’s Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The VFW commander sent out a statement calling the governor’s proposed cut a violation of state statute.

“The over 30,000 members of the Department of Connecticut Veterans of Foreign Wars and its Auxiliaries expect the governor and our representatives in the General Assembly to live up to the full letter and intent of State Statute 27-76,” Commander Gregory Smith wrote in a statement.

Everett Shepard, the adjutant for Connecticut’s American Legion, said the move would make it impossible for the remaining honor guard to perform a rifle salute. "Clearly they're going to have to eliminate the rifle salute which is something I find particularly meaningful,” said Shepard.

Purple Heart recipient Micah Welintukonis from Coventry is organizing a rally at the Capitol with lawmakers and veterans groups to protest the cut on April 15. "This is a time honored tradition that you know, one day, when I pass, my son should be entitled to see that,” Welintukonis said.

Malloy addressed the issue at a press conference on Friday.

"We have been surgical in the decisions we have had to make. Some of those are tough decisions,” Malloy said.

He also addressed the difference between the federal honor guard and Connecticut Honor Guard: "They're the same people. The question is how large is that component and how can we make sure that we are properly honoring all of our veterans.”

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