Some Military Veterans Waiting 14 Months for Burial; County to Address Delays

Patch file photo
Patch file photo

A county supervisor, reacting to a report that burials of military veterans were delayed for months, proposed today that the coroner's office be given responsibility for the county morgue, which is currently run by the Department of Health Services out of a facility at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.

"I am outraged to hear about any delays in processing veteran decedents," Supervisor Don Knabe said in a statement. "If delays occurred, processes need to be changed."

The unclaimed bodies of 49 veterans have been awaiting burial at the morgue, according to a county spokesman. An email released to KCAL9 last week put the number at about 60, but spokesman David Sommers said that figure was too high.

The wait for burial was 14 months in the longest-delayed case, Sommers said.

An official with the county morgue told reporters that personnel changes at the Department of Veterans Affairs and stringent eligibility checks for burial in a national cemetery were the cause of the delays.

Schedulers at the federal agency said they were unaware of the problem and hadn't received a call from county officials to schedule burials.

An official with the county's Department of Military and Veterans Affairs told the Board of Supervisors this afternoon that a mortuary contracted to transfer the bodies to the cemetery had changed its policy, leading to delays.

On May 1, the mortuary announced it would no longer transfer the bodies of veterans with families, even if those families cannot afford to pay for burial, according to DMVA Director Ruth Wong.

That affects about half the veterans that end up at the morgue, Wong said. She added that the department is updating its contract with the mortuary and changing other policies to "ensure that our veterans are treated with dignity and respect."

Forty-four of the 49 bodies were transferred on Friday to the coroner's office, where their identities will need to be reconfirmed before transfer to Riverside National Cemetery, Sommers said. Of the remaining five, some were still being checked for eligibility, while the families of others had made their own arrangements for burial.

Chief Coroner Mark Fajardo said it would take some more time to accurately identity many of the dead, a process required each time a body is transferred.

"We would anticipate within the following month to properly bury the remainder of the deceased," Fajardo told the board.

The coroner's office currently handles deaths deemed to be suspicious, while those who die of natural causes but whose bodies are unclaimed by family or friends are sent to the morgue. Knabe's proposal would make the coroner's office responsible for both functions.

The board directed the county's chief executive to report back in 30 days on the feasibility of merging those operations and the county cemetery and crematorium within the Department of Coroner.

—City News Service

Michael May 27, 2014 at 11:17 PM
Great job Obama & LA County government. Lucky for you enough stupid people in DB and Walnut keep re-electing you.
Jay May 28, 2014 at 11:05 AM
I'm a Vet and this is what happens when you deal with ANY government agency. I am also part of the VA but I'm grateful I do not need to use their sub par services. There are many homeless and sick Vets who are simply forgotten......
joebanana May 28, 2014 at 12:24 PM
More of our Military Veterans commit suicide than were killed in battle. Is that even a minor concern of our criminal gubment? OH HELL NO. Henry Kissassinger once stated "military men are just dumb stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy". Pretty much sums up the attitude toward our brave troops by our 'fine" leadership. As more vets realize they put their lives on the line for a LIE, and are committing horrendous war crimes for a fraud "commander in chief" the bodies will no doubt continue to stack up. Thanks Jay.
Steven Hanson May 28, 2014 at 12:46 PM
This is so wrong and unacceptable, I don't even know where to start! And Obama had nothing to do with this. It's more localized. It needs to change immediately. And the military institutions do see soldiers as being expendable...who do you think came up with the term, "acceptable losses"?
GenXsurvivor May 28, 2014 at 04:24 PM
This reminds me that I need to get 'power of attorney' over my parents when they go into a home. Since they are on state medical insurance, and would be handled accordingly, if I don't have POA, they could end-up in that same place being delayed and I'd have to fight to get their funeral services taken care of. This isn't only happening to vets, although that makes it all the more disrespectful and in need of severe overhaul.


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