Veterans Unclaimed Remains to Linger in the System

Veterans Unclaimed Remains to Linger in the System

After hearing about unclaimed veterans' remains being stored at a funeral home in Roseburg, Ore., for up to 44 years, the Office of Inspector General began its investigation of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) procedures. There were two sets of cremated remains of veterans of World War I. 

Approximately 11,500 to 52,600 veterans remain unclaimed at funeral homes nationwide, the VA reported in a statement to Congress in December 2018.

According to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, "honoring our veterans' final resting places" is one of the VA's "core, non-negotiable duties."

"Measures Needed to Ensure Final Disposition of Unclaimed Veterans Remains" was the report from the Office of the Inspector General of Veterans Affairs (OIG) released on Dec. 15 that concluded, "VA governance of compensation and services for deceased veterans whose bodies were unclaimed was not effective."

According to the current Chapel of the Roses manager, it's the family's responsibility to come claim and take care of them. Some of these veterans have no family members left, or their family members don't want to claim them for various reasons. There's no reason to put a veteran on a shelf, forgotten. 

The VA must make sure that deceased veterans without a next of kin receive dignified burials. They must also provide information to funeral homes and other entities likely to maintain custody of unclaimed remains.'
Because the Department of Veterans Affairs is divided into three separate kingdoms, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the National Cemetery Administration (NCA), it is fair to say that the attitude has been "someone else's problem." The VA bureaucracy is so overwhelming that veterans can get lost. 

The VA oversight of unclaimed veterans’ remains benefits and services is "inadequate," according to the report. The VA lacks a single executive or office to oversee approximately 27 offices that provide help and assistance for deceased veterans whose remains are unclaimed.

According to the VA, "unclaimed veteran remains is a complex issue that involves multiple agencies and requires outreach and coordination with coroners, funeral home staff, state and local government personnel, veterans groups, and others."

The VA hopes to wrap up a cohesive program in October 2022 and will "work with all partners to ensure that these veterans are taken care of in recognition of their service."

Like the Missing in America Project, some groups arrange services, chaplains, music, flowers, and handcrafted urns for hundreds of veterans they track down every year in funeral homes. 

The funeral directors who work with this organization have stopped applying for federal aid to help with the costs of caring for these unclaimed veterans years ago because the process and paperwork are so tricky. They do have a deep dedication. 

A writer from the Military Writers Society of America, Claudia Pemberton, said, "America without her soldiers would be like God without his angels."