Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day and the VA

Today is Memorial Day 2014. It's been a few years since I last posted on Memorial Day. As I noted then, this holiday was originally known as Decoration Day though the name gradually changed over the years and in 1968 the date was changed from the traditional date of May 30 to the last Monday in May.

The US Department of Veteran's Affairs ("the VA") has been in the news quite a bit recently and not for good reasons. I hope to write something on this soon but am still trying to formulate my thoughts.

But there is a strong link between the VA and Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a day to honor and remember the dead of war. Many of these dead are buried in our National Cemeteries. According to wiki, the VA maintains 131 of the 147 National Cemeteries with the US Army maintaining Arlington National Cemetery and the US Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery. The National Park Service maintains fourteen cemeteries "...associated with historic sites and battlefields." The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains twenty-four military cemeteries overseas.

The VA has three primary missions; Veterans Health Administration (the VA Medical Centers in the news are part of this), Veteran's Benefits Administration (including education benefits, i.e., the "GI Bill," and home loans among other areas), and the National Cemeteries.

Eligibility for burial in a National Cemetery is fairly straightforward for the actual veteran:

(1) Any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who dies on active duty.

(2) Any Veteran who was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. With certain exceptions, service beginning after September 7, 1980, as an enlisted person, and service after October 16, 1981, as an officer, must be for a minimum of 24 continuous months or the full period for which the person was called to active duty (as in the case of a Reservist called to active duty for a limited duration). Undesirable, bad conduct, and any other type of discharge other than honorable may or may not qualify the individual for Veterans benefits, depending upon a determination made by a VA Regional Office. Cases presenting multiple discharges of varying character are also referred for adjudication to a VA Regional Office.

(3) Any citizen of the United States who, during any war in which the United States has or may be engaged, served in the Armed Forces of any Government allied with the United States during that war, whose last active service was terminated honorably by death or otherwise, and who was a citizen of the United States at the time of entry into such service and at the time of death.
Depending on the circumstances others eligible for National Cemeteries include members of the Reserves, Commissioned Officers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Public Health Service, World War II Merchant Mariners, The Philippine Armed Forces, and some Spouses, dependents, Parents, and selected others.

Not all of the 131 National Cemeteries are "Open," i.e., available for new burials or cremations. This page allows you to see what cemeteries are in your state as well as whether the cemetery is "Open" or closed to new internments. On this Memorial Day - or any day for that matter - visiting a National Cemetery is a sobering experience. Unfortunately, there are far too many new internments in these past dozen years from active duty deaths.