SGT. SHAFT: Veteran’s wife can be buried at national cemetery

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Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I’m a U.S. Air Force and California Air National Guard veteran with nearly 18 years of honorable service to my country.

Today is the saddest day of my life and the lives of my son’s and my veteran spouse’s family. My wife of 29 years, who served as a dedicated military spouse for all but the first 11 months of my nearly 18 years of service, has passed on to be with our Lord.

I was always anticipating that she would outlive me. This was not the case. Can you tell me if a spouse of a living veteran is eligible of the same honors of a spouse of a passed veteran interned at a national cemetery?

In February 2010, I had my veteran father interred at the Santa Nella National Cemetery in California and have given my family instructions to have my remains interred there as well. I would like for my wife and veteran spouse to receive the same honor and benefit, as she is surely deserving of it.

Kind regards,
Russ P.

Dear Russ:

Sorry for your loss and thank you for your service. The answer to your question is yes. Those in the know at the Department of Veterans Affairs tell me burial benefits available to veterans such as your father include a grave site in any of VA’s 123 national cemeteries with available space, the opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a government headstone or marker, a burial flag and a presidential memorial certificate at no cost to the family.

At the time of your father’s death, arrangements were made to have your mother interred along with him. The burial benefits available for her as well as for other spouses of veterans and dependents buried in a national cemetery include burial with the veteran and perpetual care. Her name and date of birth and death also will be inscribed on the veteran’s headstone, at no cost to the family.

Shaft notes

• Congratulations to Rep. Harold Rogers. Kentucky Republican, and Bernadette Budde, who were named as recipients of the 2012 Adam Smith Award for their advocacy of free enterprise: free markets, low taxes, limited government, respect for private property and stable economy.

The awards are given by the Friends of Adam Smith and Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC) organizations. Some previous award recipients include Speaker John Boehner, Gov. Haley Barbour and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson.

• Kudos to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). For the third time since the 1990-1991 Gulf War, VA researchers will contact Gulf War-era veterans as a part of a long-term study of their health.

“Our message to our Gulf War veterans is clear. We are not forgetting you, we are listening to you, and we are acting,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said. This Gulf War follow-up study provides an important long-term look at how Gulf War veterans are faring and will provide essential data to guide the care of these veterans.

For the “Follow-up Study of a National Cohort of Gulf War and Gulf Era Veterans,” researchers want to learn about how the health of these veterans has changed over time, and about the natural history of long-term conditions like unexplained multi-symptom illnesses. Researchers will begin contacting participants at the end of May 2012. Veterans were previously contacted for a baseline survey in 1995 and a follow-up survey in 2005.

This continuing VA effort studies a group of approximately 15,000 Gulf War veterans and 15,000 veterans who served elsewhere during the Gulf War. The study group includes all branches of service, representing active, Reserve and National Guard members. Women are being oversampled to make sure they are represented, making up 20 percent of the study sample. Veterans will respond via a paper or online survey, and researchers will also review medical records from a sample of study participants.

Veterans will be asked about health issues that affect them, including chronic medical conditions such as cancer, neurological, respiratory and immunological conditions, as well as general health perceptions, functional status, chronic fatigue syndrome-like illness, unexplained multi-symptom illness and women’s health.

Veterans will be queried about their level of physical activity and their use of alcohol and tobacco. They also will be asked about their use of VA health care and satisfaction with their care.

More than a dozen scientific articles have been published from the two earlier surveys in the study. This work has investigated multi-symptom illnesses, chronic diseases and environmental exposures associated with military deployment. For example, a recent scientific article showed that Gulf War veterans health has worsened over time compared to the health of Gulf War-era veterans who served elsewhere.

Gulf War veterans reported higher rates of ongoing unexplained multi-symptom illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic fatigue syndrome-like illness, along with higher health care utilization, including frequent clinic visits and recurrent hospitalization. These findings, other ongoing studies and future research efforts will help VA to better understand the health consequences of deployment and guide care delivery.

VA is funding the new study by a team from the Post-Deployment Health Epidemiology Program, Office of Public Health. VA is working toward improving care, services and benefits for veterans of all eras. Additional information about this study can be found at http://www.publichealth.va.gov/epidemiology/studies/gulf-war-follow-up.asp.

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

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