The Inevitable

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People who know me at all would testify that I am a glass-half-full sort of guy, the fellow who sees the silver lining in the darkest cloud, the one who can find something to be grateful for regardless of the situation. (“Every Sunday morning Mrs. McRey gets up from her spot in Sunday School class and goes to the bathroom at least half a dozen times to urinate. How distracting!” “Thank God she doesn’t have chronic gas.”) These past few months, though, have brought to light a great number of things broken in our government and society, and it gets more and more difficult to put a positive spin on them.  If I were a naysayer, I’d have a sore throat from saying Nay all the time. As tempting as it is to merely point out flaws, I want to try to at least submit ideas on how to fix the things that are broken, and even if solutions elude me, I challenge others to come up with their own. Today I’d like to talk specifically to this country’s servicemen and women, and to the growing number of veterans who will one day, inevitably, leave their loved ones with the burden of making final arrangements upon their death.

I recently had a close friend pass away, Mr. Charles Snell. He was a World War Two vet, fought in the Philippines, and even earned a Bronze Star. He was a successful inventor, writer, artist and engineer who lived to the ripe old age of 92. He was, however, under the assumption that because he was a war vet, he automatically qualified for a free military funeral and burial, so he did nothing in the way of planning for his afterlife care. I befriended Mr. Snell in May of 2012 and discovered he had no family, was barely surviving on his own and was being fleeced by a neighbor woman. I immediately took him under my wing (he would have said it was the other way around) and our friendship blossomed. We had much in common, not the least being fellow veterans. Mr. Snell did not like to talk much about what preferences he had upon his death, but like him, I thought the Veterans Administration had a mechanism that would kick in upon his death that would handle all the arrangements.

In February of this year Mr. Snell fell and broke his hip, and he had to move into a nursing home. The facility cost $6,000 a month, and the only way to afford to live there was to apply for Medicaid, which required him to liquidate his entire life and become a pauper. So it was that this was his status when he did pass away. I immediately went to the VA benefits coordinator to get the ball rolling and was given a sobering shock: The VA does offer partial reimbursement for some aspects of a veteran’s afterlife care IF they qualify under a strict list of criteria. In other words, unless Mr. Snell fell into a certain narrow set of rules, he would only qualify for a flag and a tiny foot marker.

I couldn’t believe it. I refused to believe it. Here was a man who risked his young life to fight for our freedom in a hostile foreign country, and upon his death only received a piece of stone and a flag. I went to the VA website and searched for their burial and plot internment allowances. Here is the webpage: http://www.benefits.va.gov/BENEFITS/factsheets/burials/Burial.pdf, and this is what I found:

 “You may be eligible for a VA burial allowance if:

  • you paid for a Veteran’s burial or funeral, AND
  • you have not been reimbursed by another government agency or some other source, such as the deceased Veteran’s employer, AND
  • the Veteran was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.

In addition, at least one of the following conditions must be met:

  • the Veteran died because of a service-related disability, OR
  • the Veteran was receiving VA pension or compensation at the time of death, OR
  • the Veteran was entitled to receive VA pension or compensation, but decided not to reduce his/her military retirement or disability pay, OR
  • the Veteran died while hospitalized by VA, or while receiving care under VA contract at a non VA facility, OR
  • the Veteran died while traveling under proper authorization and at VA expense to or from a specific place for the purpose of examination, treatment, or care, OR
  • the Veteran had an original or reopened claim pending at the time of death and has been found entitled to compensation or pension from a date prior to the date of death, OR
  • the Veteran died on or after October 9, 1996, while a patient at a VA–approved state nursing home.”

Mr. Snell did not fit into any of those little boxes. He had been rendered penniless by the very government he fought for almost 70 years ago, and now upon his death was required to come up with $1900 for a simple cremation or become a ward of the county, where he would be placed in a cheap wooden casket and buried in a pauper’s grave. I searched the internet for any agency that could help, since neither Mr. Snell or I had that kind of money, and though I found a number of compassionate organizations willing to help, most of them worked under the same guidelines as the VA or required money up front and expensive transportation costs. I went to my church and Facebook and was able to come up with the money needed to have that brave soul cremated. I now have his ashes on an honored spot on my bookshelf.

Listen up, my fellow veterans and active duty servicemen and women. Don’t expect to be taken care of by the government when you die, and for goodness sake, don’t leave your loved ones with the task of having to drain their savings to provide a casket and funeral for you. Most funeral homes allow you to make modest payments toward the cost of your own funeral, headstone, casket, graveside service and burial spot, or cremation. If, God forbid, you grow old and have to rely on Medicaid to sustain you, you will be left with nothing of worth except that assurance your needs have been cared for in advance. Even if you have a life insurance policy, it won’t arrive quick enough to take care of your afterlife costs. Plan now for the inevitable. You never know when that will be.

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About jaytharding
Christian Mystic-in-training, burgeoning Apologist, Writer, Poet, Philosopher, all-purpose curmudgeon Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. 11 Corinthians 5:17

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