Unclaimed Veterans' Remains 400/Year

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A 2022 82-page report suggested creation of Decedent Affairs Program Office to enlighten families of burial benefits & create agency protocol for unclaimed remains of our veterans.

The  2022 "Unclaimed Veterans' Remains VA OIG Report Recommendation #2 Response Report" detailed over 82 pages of issues concerning U.S. Veterans who have no next-of-kin or acquaintances to claim their remains for burial as well as lack of distribution of information for families to know of U.S. Veterans burial benefits.

It also asserts a need, 200+ years after the formation of the military, for a national / federal oversight of burial benefits for all veterans via "Decedent Affairs Program Office" despite existing protocol dictating honor, respect, and consistency in handling any U.S. Veterans burial and personal effects.


Conversely: Private party/charitable solution

The Missing in America Project (MIAP) is a registered 501(c)3 Non-profit Corporation, launched nationwide in January, 2007. and founded by Rich Cesler.

"Our intention is to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremains of American veterans."


Background:

  • Approximately 24,000 Veterans die annually in VHA facilities or under VHA-authorized care.
  • Of this 400 have no next-of-kin or acquaintances to claim their remains for burial.
  • Department of Veterans Affairs consists of three administrations, of which it is revealed in the Oct 2022 report the Veterans Affairs (VA)  “lacked a single office or executive responsible for overseeing approximately 27 offices that provide benefits and services for deceased veterans whose remains are unclaimed.”
    • Veterans Health Administration (VHA)
    • Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA)
    • National Cemetery Administration
  • The Office of Survivors Assistance was established by Public Law 110-389, Title II, Section 222, in October 2008,

Palpable excerpts from the Unclaimed Veteran Remains Crosswalk & Gap Analysis  -The entire "Gap Analysis" in the OIG 2022 report is visible on pages 47-51 Unclaimed_Veterans_Remains.pdf 

The Gap Analysis for each the following categories is consistently identical "Varying levels & methods of oversight in place at some VISNs and VAMCs. VHA to establish Decedent Affairs Program Office to institute national oversight of this objective.

Brief
Description
Oversight in place? Consistency Comments
Burial allowance for Unclaimed Veteran who died while hospitalized by VA (mortuary services) No Low FY amount is $828. At a national level, there is no oversight to ensure VAMCs are adhering to this allowance. The UVR IPT is assessing the option of having VBA make these payments to address fraud possibilities stemming from potential duplicate payments (Rec 6).
Transportation expenses related to death while traveling under prior authorization or while hospitalized by VA No Low The UVR IPT is assessing the option of having VBA make these payments to address fraud possibilities
stemming from potential duplicate payments (Rec 6)
Disposition of deceased
Veterans' personal property
No Low Ch 4 (see column F) only covers "funds" and not personal effects. VHA does not have documented
guidance or oversight for handling personal effects.
Casket/urn No Low VHA's frontline staff at VAMCs (Decedent Affairs Clerk) should direct the vendor (funeral home) to engage NCA for casket/urn requirements and reimbursement
Flags No Low While a flag accompanies an Unclaimed Veteran to interment, there may not always be someone to
receive it
Funeral expenses for deaths of Unclaimed Veterans external to VHA care No Low VHA staff need to be aware of VBA benefits such as this one, and be able to provide appropriate referral.
Headstones, markers, and
burial receptacles
No Low

Recommendation for VHA
Pursue resources and funding to institute national oversight via a “Decedent Affairs
Program Office” (DAPO). The mission of the DAPO will be to provide 

  • Decedent affairs program oversight; 
  • Evaluate decedent affairs needs and effectiveness through program evaluation and interaction with Deputy Network Directors (DNDs) and Business Integration Managers (BIMs); 
  • Oversight of decedent affairs ERM activities, to include risk assessment, internal control evaluation, and testing; direct field interaction in furtherance of the program 
    mission; development and reporting of decedent affairs metrics to assess program health;
    outreach as necessary to industry organizations and Veterans Service Organizations
    (VSOs) regarding VHA decedent benefits; and interaction with Veterans Benefit
    Administration (VBA) and National Cemetery Administration (NCA) personnel to share best
    practices to further the mission of providing dignified burials to all families and custodians
    of Veterans eligible for and requesting burial and memorial benefits.

Acronym decoding:

  • DAPO = Decedent Affairs Program Office
  • EMD = Enterprise Measurement and Design team,
  • ERM = Enterprise Risk Management*
  • IPE = Interment Planning and Execution
  • IPT = Integrated Project Team
  • VISN = Veterans Integrated Service Networks
  • VAMCs = VA medical centers
  • UVR = Unclaimed Veteran Remains
  • VAMCs = VA medical centers
  • VEO = Veterans Experience Office
  • VISN = Veterans Integrated Service Networks
  • VUR = Veteran Unclaimed Remains

* "The Veterans Affairs Enterprise Risk Management is a framework that provides governance, communications, training, processes, and tools to effectively identify, assess, respond to, and monitor risks, enabling VA leadership to make informed decisions and focus priorities to better serve Veterans." Enterprise Risk Management - Office of Oversight, Risk and Ethics (va.gov)


Private party/charitable solution:

 The Missing in America Project (MIAP) is a registered 501(c)3 Non-profit Corporation, launched nationwide in January, 2007. and founded by Rich Cesler. 

"Our intention is to locate, identify and inter the unclaimed cremains of American veterans."  

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