When a veteran dies and there is no family to tend to the details, the cremated remains will sometimes stay in storage for years. They’re called Unclaimed Veterans. If the eventual burial takes place in a Department of Veterans Affairs cemetery, it’s called an Unattended Interment.
Sometimes these veterans are homeless; sometimes they’re in a care facility. Sometimes no one knows the whole truth unless VA paperwork is found in the veteran’s belongings.
I know of three situations in the past six months where veterans with no relatives were buried — yet hundreds and thousands showed up at their funerals. In those instances, word went out via a social media blog requesting that people come to pay their respects. Some traveled many miles to be able to attend and notified others in the area.
Now and then a local funeral home will put out word for nearby residents to attend the funeral of a veteran without family. Ask specifically what they need. It might be they only require your attendance and anyone else you can bring with you. Either way, the veteran can receive military honors, including “Taps” and a gun salute, often performed by the American Legion if the burial takes place in a civilian cemetery.
If asked to attend the funeral of a veteran without family, please try to go. While they don’t have a biological family, these veterans do have a military family — us.
To learn more, there are Unclaimed Remains Burial Resources and Unclaimed Veteran Remains fact sheets available on the VA’s cemetery website (www.cem.va.gov). Also look online for the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program (www.dignitymemorial.com).