In California, proper veteran burial is a priority

Julia LeDoux
March 06, 2019 - 1:12 pm
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The last honor that can be shown to a veteran is a proper burial, but Marin County California Veterans Services Officer Sean Stephens says some veterans aren’t provided with that solemn sendoff, leading states such as California to pass laws requiring it.

“Out of respect and honor to our veterans, they should be laid to rest in the hallowed grounds of the national cemeteries with their brothers and sisters,” he said.

Stephens, an Army veteran who has four combat tours in Afghanistan under his belt, explained that the California Military and Veterans Code mandates that the County Board of Supervisors name an honorably discharged veteran to ensure and oversee the burial of veterans, spouses or eligible dependents.

"President Abraham Lincoln once said 'to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow,'" Stephens said. "That's a promise we need to keep."

Stephens said the mandate applies to the bodies of indigent, abandoned or unclaimed veterans and dependents of veterans, including those who don’t have the financial means to cover burial costs.

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Stephens said two locations in Marin County are described as paupers graveyards – at San Quentin Prison and a plot in Lucas Valley – and that an unknown number of veterans and their families are buried there.

Volunteer James Cook, a Vietnam veteran and retired San Rafael, California police officer, was tapped to serve as the county’s veterans remains officer. He will examine records and identify veterans or family members buried at either the prison or in Lucas Valley and work to have the remains reinterred at a national cemetery.

“It’s going to be a lot of paperwork, a lot of research,” said Stephens.

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Cook recently joined the Missing in America  Project that focuses on identifying and verifying the movement of the bodies of veterans and their dependents.

Stephens said there are an estimated 12,000 veterans in Marin County and that his office helps them and their families obtain benefits.

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