VA is dedicated to ensuring our nation’s Veterans and eligible family members receive a timely and dignified burial in honor of their service and sacrifice. Due to our dedicated workforce, VA’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA) has been recognized repeatedly for outstanding customer service on behalf of Veterans and their families. Unfortunately, the recent Stars and Stripes article from November 21, 2014, “Burial Delays Prompt Push for VA Oversight in Congress” leaves an incorrect perception about interment delays at VA national cemeteries.
There is no wait time for burial in a VA national cemetery beyond a day or two depending on demand at each cemetery. Once VA establishes a Veteran or family member’s eligibility for burial, the Veteran’s next of kin or authorized representative can schedule an interment service with us. Establishment of eligibility and scheduling of burials takes approximately 10 minutes if the requestor can provide discharge documents, or if VA can find discharge documents in our electronic systems. If necessary to help establish eligibility, VA conducts research to retrieve the discharge documents that usually takes no more than 48 hours. There are instances when eligibility determinations for the Veteran’s burial in a national cemetery are requested but the burial is not scheduled. In this instance, NCA follows up every 30 days in an effort to ensure scheduling of the interment. In no instance has a Veteran or eligible family member waited to be buried because of an untimely response from NCA.
The situation in Los Angeles County referenced in the article was upsetting and unfortunate. Our nation’s Veterans deserved better. I can report that many of these Veterans are now interred at Riverside National Cemetery and received the military honors they deserved.
As reported in the Los Angeles Times this past May, the issue in L.A. County involved local internal processes, which resulted in delayed requests for interment of unclaimed Veterans’ remains at a VA national cemetery. Once L.A. County leadership resolved this issue, VA worked quickly to ensure dignified interments of these Veterans. VA works regularly with funeral directors, coroners and morgues, including those in L.A. County, to establish eligibility and arrange for burial of unclaimed Veterans.
VA is committed to providing world class service for Veterans in their time of need in fulfillment of President Lincoln’s promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”
Ron Walters is the Acting Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs and also serves as the director of the Office of Finance and Planning for the National Cemetery Administration.