An email from a NYPD Officer concerning a video he received shown on KSDK TV, St. Louis, Missouri in early 2008 was forwarded to me. The broadcast was entitled, “America’s Legacy of Ashes.”
Rarely does one witness a three star General in tears. Major General King E. Sidwell in a cracking voice said, “We have an opportunity today to honor six souls who cried out.” On a cold January day the six Missouri war heroes arrived on hallowed ground when their long journey ended with dignity, honor and respect due from a nation they served without failure.
Across the nation unclaimed cremated remains of Vet’s have been abandoned in rusting cans on shelves buried away in basements of hospitals, funeral homes, crematories and other facilities. Thousands of unclaimed cremated remains have been left to languish awaiting proper recognition and inurnment.
These unclaimed cremated remains are a blight on our nation. These Vet’s fulfilled their duty owed the nation and the government promise of recognition and proper burial has been abandoned. We the people have a fiduciary duty to those who served. Permitting this disgrace is to renege upon our duty as a nation.
A group formed by Linda Smith, Fred Salanti and others known as the Missing in America Project seeks to honor the nation’s obligation by identifying abandoned cremated remains of Vet’s insuring inurnment. The group has grown to encompass active members across the nation.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney of New York having learned of this shame immediately committed her office to introduce legislation to Congress empowering The Secretary of Veteran Affairs to cooperate with veteran service organization to facilitate the interment of unclaimed cremated remains of veterans. Other members of Congress in both Chambers have expressed shock and thereby support to address this issue.
The reality though is that Congress is limited in its authority to direct States to respond. The States retain ultimate authority to cooperate and release unclaimed remains to third parties. Several States have begun to enact legislation permitting the release of abandoned cremated remains to Veteran organizations removing potential for liability claims.
As a member of the Government & Legal Affairs Committee of the ICCFA I brought this to the attention at our meeting in Naples. Irwin Shipper as Chair requested I head a sub-committee of our members to study and to offer recommendations to the ICCFA of the role, if any the Association should undertake.
Happily Frank Stewart, Greg Storm, Chad Vice, Caressa Hughes and Poul LeMasters volunteered to aid in reaching a consensus. Robert Fells as Counsel of the Association has been enormously helpful by reviewing proposed State and Federal legislation as it would impact our members.
The MIAP remains a hope that requires State and Federal action to address what has been a national shame. As leaders of our profession dedicated to honor and respect every member of our communities those who served our nation demand our additional attention and devotion. Until each abandoned Vet receives the honor and respect earned though service we have an obligation unfulfilled.