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Legislation to give burial benefits to cremated veterans clears Congress

By STEVE HOWE | Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y. | Published: December 22, 2020

UTICA, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — When Air Force veteran and Sherrill native Chuck Osier died in 2015, his wife, Donna, received paperwork from the funeral director to request a burial marker or medallion from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Osier submitted the form for her late husband, who was cremated and placed in an urn as he wished. She’d hoped to get a medallion to go with his flag, to be placed in a shadow box and given to their son.

After she received a letter from the secretary of Veterans Affairs that said her husband couldn’t be honored with a medallion or plaque since he was cremated, Osier said she stewed over it for weeks. She couldn’t understand why the VA wouldn’t honor Chuck, an honorably discharged veteran who served during the Vietnam War.

So she made a vow to her husband of 33 years.

“I made Chuck a promise after I received that letter,” Osier said. “And I promised him I was going to fix this, no matter what it took or how long it took.”

More than five years later, the relevant language of the Chuck Osier Burial Benefits Act has been included in a larger veterans health and benefits act, which has passed both chambers of Congress.

Chuck Osier Burial Benefits Act

The legislation would require the VA to provide an urn or commemorative plaque for veterans who don’t receive a headstone or burial marker.

Those eligible would include any member of the armed forces who served in the U.S. military from April 6, 1917, to the present and was cremated, but not interred in a cemetery.

The inclusion of the act inspired by Donna Osier’s advocacy was made by U.S. Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-Utica, but the timeline dates back to shortly after Chuck Osier’s death in March 2015 at 64 years old.

When Osier received the letter from the VA telling her that her husband would not receive any commemoration, she reached out to the late former Congressman Richard Hanna on the next Memorial Day.

“It just didn’t make sense to me that an honorably discharged veteran was denied the final thank you from the country,” Osier said. “He was entitled to this.”

It wasn’t just Osier’s husband who had been denied, either.

Her father was a Korean War veteran, and her brother was a retired senior chief petty officer in the Navy. Both were cremated when they died and did not receive any plaque, urn or other burial recognition at their passing.

“There’s a lot of challenges and when you’re dealing with the death and affairs of someone, it’s a stumbling block you don’t expect,” Osier said. “And depending on how important their military time was — and Chuck loved his time in the Air Force — I’m not sure how necessary it is to make this so difficult.”

Osier also was upset to learn there was no allowance for an urn, as there is for traditional burials, from the VA. While she wouldn’t want a different urn for Chuck, Osier said she was disappointed to learn that was the case.

“For the VA to require someone to buy a plot and a marker in a cemetery just to receive this plaque is ridiculous,” she said.

Crossing the finish line

Osier started her effort to pass the burial act with Hanna’s office, but he chose to retire at the end of his term in 2016. So she switched gears to work with then-Congresswoman Claudia Tenney, whom she attributed writing the bones of the bill and the initial work to get it going.

When Brindisi took office in 2019, Osier kept up the effort with the new congressman’s office.

Brindisi said he was proud to see the legislation cross the finish line. Having a strong constituent advocate provides a name and a face to the legislation, he said.

“More importantly when I’m advocating for legislation like this, I can tell Donna’s story and Chuck’s story,” Brindisi said.

Brindisi did exactly that on the floor of the House of Representatives on Dec. 16, during a one-minute defense of the legislation. The House bill including Chuck Osier Burial Benefits Act now heads to President Donald Trump’s desk.

Donna Osier thanked Tenney and Brindisi for helping her through the legislative process and not blowing off her desire for change on veterans benefits.

“They took me seriously; they worked hard,” Osier said. “I am just so grateful to both of them for all the help they’ve given me and the support they’ve given me. Without them, it wouldn’t have happened.”

showe@gannett.com

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