Officials estimate the cremated remains of as many as 80 deceased veterans are stored in Iowa funeral homes.
A bill signed into law by the governor would let a veterans’ organization claim the cremated remains of confirmed veterans who were indigent of homeless when they died. Those veterans will be buried at the Iowa Veterans Cemetery with full military honors. Iowa Funeral Directors Association president Marty Rieken says he does not have veterans remains in his Oakland funeral home.
“But I do know some funeral directors who do and this will give them a chance to give those people a proper burial and everybody deserves a proper burial,” Rieken says.
Giving a veteran full military honors at the burial site is a moving tribute, according to Rieken.
“Anybody that’s served our country sure deserves our respect,” Rieken says. “And we should be able to give them a proper burial.”
Under current law, cremated remains may only be claimed by a family members. The new law that goes into effect July 1 lets Iowa funeral directors with unclaimed cremated remains contact the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs six months after they’ve filed the death certificate, to find out if the deceased was a veteran. If he or she was a veteran, the funeral director will keep the cremated remains for another six months, just in case a family member comes forward. After that, the cremated remains will be released to a veterans organization for transport to the Iowa Veterans Cemetery.
Iowa’s new law is similar to laws in other states. In 2007, a national group began an effort to find indigent veterans who had been cremated, but not yet buried. According to the organization’s website, the Missing in America Project has identified the cremated remains of more than 3000 veterans and interred more than 2700 of them.