Disrespecting the Dead
Lost Body, Wrong Corpse

The Pursuit of Military Burials for Unclaimed Veteran Cremains

All across the country there are abandoned cremains sitting in funeral homes and hospitals. There has been a movement to take abandoned veteran remains and give them the proper military funeral they deserve. One of the largest organization that tracks down abandoned veteran remains is the Missing in America Project (the "Project"). The Project's mission is to locate, identify, and inter unclaimed veteran cremains in order to bury them with the honor and respect they deserve. To date, the Project has found over 12,000 cremains, identifying about 2,700 of those being veteran cremains, and interred over 2,500. 

In Nebraska, the only two members of Missing in America Project's Nebraska chapter, estimate that the ashes of hundreds of veterans go unclaimed each year. State law requires funeral homes to keep ashes for 60 days. After the 60 day waiting period and a "reasonable attempt" to contact family and friends, a funeral home can bury the remains, scatter them or throw them out. The members of the Project in Nebraska want to inform funeral homes that there's another option, and that is to hand over the remains to groups like theirs. The hope was that a new law would help convince funeral homes to hand over the unclaimed veterans ashes.

Nebraska passed the law in March which allows funeral homes and crematoriums to work with VA-affiliated groups like the Missing in America Project to identify unclaimed ashes of veterans or spouses, then turn them over if they qualify for interment in a veterans' cemetery. It was not illegal for funeral homes to turn over the unclaimed ashes before, but the new law protects them from liability if a distant family member shows up later. 

Bill Henry, one of the members of the Project's Nebraska chapter has said that the new law has not helped convince funeral homes to give him the unclaimed ashes. He says that funeral homes are still holding them and aren't really providing him with reasons why they are doing so. He said some have said they are still reviewing the new law and others have claimed to not have even heard about it. In order to make sure that everyone knows about the law and his organization he has mailed each of the nearly 300 funeral homes in the state and plans to visit each personally as fast as he can. With Henry's persistence hopefully many more veterans will get the dignified military funeral they deserve.

Emily Morris

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