Digging a Deep Grave on Many Levels

We hear about death. We read of casualties out of Afghanistan and Iraq, be they from combat operations, non-hostile incidents or the suicide bomber du jour.

For the living, frontline deaths can mean irreplaceable loss. Unspeakable grief. The shattered cope in different ways.
One surviving parent has asked to be buried with her son who was killed in Iraq, Nov. 12, 2008.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ answer has been, “No.”

Army Spc. Corey Shea was buried in the Massachusetts National Cemetery, a veterans’ resting place. As with the 130 national cemeteries run by the VA’s National Cemetery Administration, only spouses and children can be buried with the deceased. Denise Anderson, Shea’s mother, has asked for a waiver from the VA. She is not the first: such requests have been made and approved since 2005.

According to Anderson, Shea, her only son, died without a spouse or children. She does not want him to be alone.

According to the VA, Anderson must be at her “time of need” to have her request to be granted. “Time of need” seems to mean, dead. For the 42-year-old Anderson that could be another 40-50 years. Maybe she’ll get past it with time, but there seems to be little comfort in this limbo. The VA noted her son has been buried deeply enough to accommodate her remains, should her request be approved … after she’s, well, dead. Is this a sacred responsibility or bastardized Abbott and Costello routine?

Lawmakers have stepped in as they often do. Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank and Sen. John Kerry are backing the Corey Shea Act that would allow for biological and adoptive parents to be buried with unmarried veteran sons or daughters who have no minor children. It would cover a servicemember who “… dies as the direct result of hostile action with the enemy, while in combat, while going to or returning from a com bat mission if the cause of death was directly related to hostile action …”

The bill is detailed, so one can only imagine the importance of the documented circumstances of the death. As we will see in a post next week, this combat category “thing” can be an issue, for males as well as females.

The bill covers the 130 cemeteries but excludes Arlington, which falls under the Army.

Veterans groups have not said much on the proposal, though AMVETs is concerned this will negatively impact the benefits of those already permitted. We unclear on their concerns since the remains in question occupy vertical space and not an additional gravesite.

Anderson cannot be alone and a reasonable remedy seems within reach.

Requests for amplifying information on VA decedent benefits from the department’s public affairs office have gone unanswered. One VA official pointed us to the VA Web site. We had already exhausted that vague, marginal resource.

What say you on the “policy,” lawmaker efforts, or the VA’s handling of this request as reported?

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