JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — The cremated remains of an estimated 47,000 veterans are stored throughout the United States, sometimes in nothing more than nondescript metal canisters on shelves.
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey want to help them be identified and treated with respect.
Last week, Shuster, R-Hollidaysburg, introduced the Dignified Interment of Our Veterans Act of 2014. It is co-sponsored by three other members of the state’s House delegation: Rep. Matthew Cartwright, Rep. Patrick Meehan and Rep. Glenn Thompson.
“Our veterans put their lives on the line to bravely protect our country, and we owe them a debt of gratitude for their service,” said Shuster.
“When they pass away, they should be treated with the proper respect, but unfortunately the remains of thousands of veterans are currently lying unclaimed in facilities across the country. It is crucial for Congress to address this issue and examine how we can improve the (Department of Veterans Affairs) process for dealing with these remains.”
Shuster’s bill is the companion piece to the Dignified Interment of Our Veterans Act of 2013, introduced by Toomey in November.
“When our veterans pass, they should be honored in a way that reflects the bravery and sacrifice they showed in defending our country,” said Toomey, a Republican. “With this in mind, I believe Congress needs to learn more about the VA’s processes to recover veterans’ cremated, unclaimed remains and develop an action plan to help resolve this issue that is so important for our veterans’ community.”
Both bills would require the secretary of veterans affairs to study how unclaimed remains are identified and processed.
Remains go into storage for several reasons, including being unclaimed or simply being left with funeral directors.
“We just need the cooperation, No. 1, from all the funeral directors, medical examiners and coroners,” said John M. Fabry, Pennsylvania’s state coordinator for the Missing in America Project, a nonprofit that works to locate, identify and inter veterans remains. “It’s not a simple issue, but it’s something I think the veterans are entitled to.”