Honored in Death for Their Service in Life
This morning, as every morning I glanced through the obituaries of the local newspaper. A large ad in the right corner of the second page caught my eye. There was a photo of an elderly homeless man in a wheelchair holding a sign: " I am cold + hungry. Please help. U.S. Veteran." I have seen this photo actually played out live a number of times on my daily walk through downtown Raleigh. Somewhere along the pedestrian mall there is always an elderly war veteran sitting in a wheelchair out to catch a bit of the sun's warmth holding a small sign, and they always look slightly embarassed to be doing it. They are always greatful when given a few coins or a cup of coffee by passersby. They are neat and tidy, usually wearing a service or baseball cap representing the branch of the military they served. And they are dignified....but they are homeless, and many are alone with no family.
I have been homeless, and I can tell you personally that not everyone you see with a sign on the street is out to fleece the public. I have overheard frustrated conversations of homeless men on their way back to the shelter who have been to the library to use the computer and trying to navigate through the requirements of the Veterans Administration day after day. The system is not kind and is seemingly unconcerned in many instances. It's disheartening to me to know that these individuals have given of their time to serve in this country's military and have come to this end. Many are still proud to have served even while being passed over by the VA, and frankly, I don't know how they do it without becoming angry.
The VA provides a flag for the casket, a burial plot in a state or national military cemeteryry ( if available), a bronze marker, and a Presidential Certificate of Recognition. There is a monetary pay out, depending on the circumstances of the death, but it is scarcely enough to pay for a dignified burial. http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/topics/indigent/index.htm The VA does not endorse any other organization other than those provided by the government, but they do provide the link to the Diginity Homelss Veterans Memorial Program which was mentioned in the ad that caught my attention.
As a minister, I wave my fee when performing funerals for the indigent and homeless, including those of veterans. Especially those of veterans. It's my way of giving back a little to the community. Everyone deserves a proper burial with a prayer or two and a few words of rememberance to recognize they passed this way. I wasn't aware of this specific program, so I'm sharing the details here...
"You passed him every morning on your way to work.You gave him a few dollars when you had it to spare, especially when the message on his cardboard sign struck a nerve. And you often wondered how he arrived there. Lately, though, you've noticed him absent.
What you never knew is , before life delivered him to that corner, he was a defender of your liberties. He withstood the ravages of war, a hero, and decorated veteran of our armed forces. And while he may have died homeless and without family, he still received the honors he earned."
The ad went on to to say:" We pay tribute to our homeless veterans by providing free burial with full military honors to eligible veterans, so every hero is properly recognized."
The Dignity Memorial® Homeless Veterans Burial Program provides dignified burial services for eligible homeless and indigent veterans to ensure they receive the honors in death that their service in life merited.
Founded upon the belief that every veteran deserves a dignified and honorable burial, the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program is a cooperative effort among Dignity Memorial funeral, cremation and cemetery service providers, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, local medical examiners, coroners, veterans advocates and veterans organizations.
Through the program, homeless and indigent veterans who have no family to claim them are identified and provided with a proper military burial. Dignity Memorial providers supply preparation of the body, transportation, clothing, casket and coordination of the funeral service. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides eligible veterans with the opening and closing of the gravesite, a grave liner, a headstone or marker, a graveside ceremony and burial in a National Cemetery.
Currently available in 20 cities across the country, the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program has provided burial services for more than 600 homeless veterans since the program’s inception in 2000.