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SGT. SHAFT: Benefits unlikely for Marine Reservist’s widow

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Dear Sgt. Shaft,

My husband was in the United States Marine Reserves and was honorably discharged. He passed away in 1980. Are there any benefits to which I, as his widow, may be entitled? He did not have a military funeral. — Julene K

Dear Julene,

Based on the information that you provided about the specifics of your husband's service, it does not appear that you are eligible for any VA benefits.

Shaft notes

Kudos to the House of Representatives for the recent approval of four veteran-related measures, including legislation to provide parents of deceased service members — commonly referred to as Gold Star Parents — expanded access to state veterans' homes:

"The loss of a child is a heartbreaking tragedy for any parent. When such loss occurs in defense of American freedom and democracy, we as a grateful and compassionate nation must do all that we can in recognition of their sacrifice," said Ranking Member Steve Buyer of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.

Currently, only Gold Star Parents who have lost all of their children to service in the Armed Forces are eligible for residency in a state veterans' home. H.R. 4505, introduced by Congressman Mac Thornberry (R-TX), expands such eligibility to include Gold Star Parents who have lost any children to service in the Armed Forces. H.R. 4504 passed the House by a vote of 420-0.

"I am proud to support this bill, and I thank Congressman Thornberry for recognizing the needs of Gold Star Parents," said Buyer. This commendable measure would ensure that some of our most deserving citizens are provided for in their latter years, and it would do so without any additional cost to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and without impacting space available to veterans."

"Our highest admiration and respect should always lie with our servicemembers who knowingly and willingly put their lives on the line to protect our freedoms," continued Buyer. "And, we must also acknowledge and honor their beloved family members who also sacrifice in service to our country."

•  •  •

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki recently announced that the VA is offering bronze medallions to attach to existing, privately purchased headstones or markers, signifying a deceased's status as a veteran:

"For veterans not buried in a national or state veterans cemetery, or those without a government grave marker, VA is pleased to offer this option that highlights their service and sacrifices for our country," said Secretary Shinseki.

The new item can be furnished instead of a traditional government headstone or marker for veterans whose death occurred on or after Nov. 1, 1990, and whose grave in a private cemetery is marked with a privately purchased headstone or marker.

Under federal law, eligible Veterans buried in a private cemetery are entitled to either a government-furnished grave marker or the new medallion, but not both. Veterans buried in a national or state Veterans cemetery will receive a government headstone or marker of the standard design authorized at that cemetery.

The medallion is available in three sizes: 5 inches, 3 inches and 1 ½ inches in width. Each bronze medallion features the image of a folded burial flag adorned with laurels and is inscribed with the word "Veteran" at the top and the branch of service at the bottom.

Next of kin will receive the medallion, along with a kit that will allow the family or the staff of a private cemetery to affix the medallion to a headstone, grave marker, mausoleum or columbarium niche cover.

More information about VA-furnished headstones, markers and medallions can be found at http://www.cem.va.gov/cem/hm/hmtype.asp.

• Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, DC 20035-5900; fax: 301/622-3330; call: 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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