VA National Cemeteries: Honoring Veterans, caring for families in their time of need

Dallas Fort Worth National Cemetery memorial service.

VA is dedicated to ensuring our nation’s Veterans and eligible family members receive a timely and dignified burial in honor of their service and sacrifice.  Due to our dedicated workforce, VA’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA) has been recognized repeatedly for outstanding customer service on behalf of Veterans and their families.  Unfortunately, the recent Stars and Stripes article from November 21, 2014, “Burial Delays Prompt Push for VA Oversight in Congress” leaves an incorrect perception about interment delays at VA national cemeteries.

There is no wait time for burial in a VA national cemetery beyond a day or two depending on demand at each cemetery.  Once VA establishes a Veteran or family member’s eligibility for burial, the Veteran’s next of kin or authorized representative can schedule an interment service with us.  Establishment of eligibility and scheduling of burials takes approximately 10 minutes if the requestor can provide discharge documents, or if VA can find discharge documents in our electronic systems.  If necessary to help establish eligibility, VA conducts research to retrieve the discharge documents that usually takes no more than 48 hours.  There are instances when eligibility determinations for the Veteran’s burial in a national cemetery are requested but the burial is not scheduled. In this instance, NCA follows up every 30 days in an effort to ensure scheduling of the interment.  In no instance has a Veteran or eligible family member waited to be buried because of an untimely response from NCA.

R5The situation in Los Angeles County referenced in the article was upsetting and unfortunate.  Our nation’s Veterans deserved better.  I can report that many of these Veterans are now interred at Riverside National Cemetery and received the military honors they deserved.

As reported in the Los Angeles Times this past May, the issue in L.A. County involved local internal processes, which resulted in delayed requests for interment of unclaimed Veterans’ remains at a VA national cemetery.  Once L.A. County leadership resolved this issue, VA worked quickly to ensure dignified interments of these Veterans. VA works regularly with funeral directors, coroners and morgues, including those in L.A. County, to establish eligibility and arrange for burial of unclaimed Veterans.

VA is committed to providing world class service for Veterans in their time of need in fulfillment of President Lincoln’s promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”

Ron WaltersRon Walters is the Acting Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs and also serves as the director of the Office of Finance and Planning for the National Cemetery Administration.

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Veterans share what it’s like to be deployed for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time to gather with family and friends to reflect on the past year. While this normally takes place at a family home, for many Veterans, Thanksgiving was celebrated in a foxhole, a submarine, flying combat patrols over enemy territory or wherever they hung their Kevlar at night.

Deployed Servicemembers might not be able to be home for the holidays, but often go to great lengths to bring the holidays to them, even if its just for one meal.

Last week we asked you to share your deployed Thanksgiving pictures and stories with us. Below are some of what was shared with us on email and on Facebook. Please continue to share your deployed Thanksgiving stories with us in the comments.

The VAntage Point staff wishes you a very happy Thanksgiving! Thank you for your service!

Dan Burke of the 2nd ID 3rd SBCT 1-23INF BCO celebrates Turkey Day 2009 in Iraq. Photo by Nathan Marques.

Dan Burke of the 2nd ID 3rd SBCT 1-23 Inf. B Co. celebrates Turkey Day 2009 in Iraq. Photo by Nathan Marques.

Anthony Schmiedeler: “I spent two Thanksgivings in Fallujah and they weren’t bad at all. You had your brothers to the left and right which might as well be family. And the leadership did everything they could to give us a proper Thanksgiving meal with all the fixings. I’m grateful.”

Stu Seashols: The Navy cooks made sure Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were extra special back in the 60s, and we did have our buddies that were just as homesick to share that, too! I SURVIVED!”

Valerie Boyle O’Connell: “I spent many Thanksgivings away from home, either state side or overseas. Sure, it wasn’t like home, but you make the best of the situation and enjoy it with others in the same situation as you are. I always enjoyed spending them with my military family!”


HM2 Reyes submitted this photo and told us, "These photos were taken on Thanksgiving Day. We had a tech volunteer to stand the watch for 24 hours and couldn't have dinner with us so we brought dinner to him. We didn't mind having Thanksgiving dinner in the hospital just as long as we all had dinner together. That's what camaraderie is all about."  Surgical Techs Main Operating Room, MMU Role 3, Kandahar, Afghanistan Thanksgiving 2012

Thanksgiving 2012, Kandahar, Afghanistan: HM2 Reyes submitted this photo of the surgical techs for the main operating room, MMU Role 3, and told us, “These photos were taken on Thanksgiving Day. We had a tech volunteer to stand the watch for 24 hours and couldn’t have dinner with us so we brought dinner to him. We didn’t mind having Thanksgiving dinner in the hospital just as long as we all had dinner together. That’s what camaraderie is all about.”

Brian Steere: “It sucks, horrible food, you miss your family, and although you’re proud to be there, the conditions you’re under usually suck too. Overseas a holiday is just like any other day.”

Richard Palmieri: “I spent two in Iraq. The guys next to me are more family than my family. The chain of command did everything to give us a great meal. It was probably some of the best Holiday memories I have. Good times.” Read More »

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Center celebrates 20 years of serving women Veterans

The VA’s Center for Women Veterans celebrated its 20th anniversary today at the Department of Veterans Affairs headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Sec. Bob McDonald visits Phoenix and Las Vegas VAMC“Our Nation has 359,000 women serving right now – about 16 percent of the Active, Guard, and Reserve force,” said VA Secretary Bob McDonald during the ceremony. “Women Veterans represent 10.5 percent of all Veterans in the United States. They have earned the title of Veteran and we’re proud to honor them all.”

VA’s Center for Women Veterans team is led by women Veterans, who understand the needs of Veterans and are working day in, and day out, on their behalf.

Women are the fastest growing group within the Veterans population. According to the 2011 Veteran Population Projection Model, in 2014, women comprised 11 percent of the total Veteran population in the United States. By 2040, women are projected to comprise 18 percent of all living U.S. Veterans, with 58 percent of women Veterans coming from the Gulf War era (Source: Veteran Population Projection Model, 2011).

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Warriors to Workforce Program Graduates First Intern Class

W2W group

The first 26 graduates of VA’s Acquisition Academy Acquisition Internship School’s Warriors to Workforce (W2W) Program flank Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson who officiated the ceremony; celebrating three years of hard work.

It all began three years ago when Veterans from across the country began a journey with the VA Acquisition Academy (VAAA) Acquisition Internship School’s Warriors to Workforce (W2W) Program.  Twenty-six Veterans decided to continue their service to America as federal acquisition professionals.  Between them, they have seven Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars, more than 190 years of military experience and represent three branches of service.

“The program offers new hope and a career path for our wounded warriors and provides a critical source of talent for the federal workforce,” said VAAA Chancellor Melissa Starinsky.  “It’s a win-win.”

The W2W Program was created to provide returning wounded Veterans with an opportunity to apply military experiences and skills to a new professional field. Thursday, Nov. 6, marked the culmination of their journey as they graduated and transitioned to full-time federal contract specialists.

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DATA: VA making progress in access, accountability, other areas

VA released five new fact sheets today updating progress in the key areas of access to care and benefits, accountability, implementation of the Choice Act and hospital quality care measures.

The fact sheets are titled:

Some key findings in these fact sheets include:

  •  Access to Care
    • 1.1M authorizations for Veterans to receive care in the private sector and other non-VA health facilities (May-Oct.1)—a 46.6 percent increase
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Team RWB carries Old Glory across America

Team Red White & Blue completed its’ first Old Glory Coast-to-Coast Relay Friday – carrying the American flag from San Francisco to Walter Reed Hospital Bethesda in less than 60 days with the flag being carried every mile.

The 3,800 mile relay that began on Sept. 11, would be a logistical nightmare for most organizations, but Team RWB is not a normal organization – with exception of its Tampa chapter, the rest of the 54,000 members are spread across the country in 120 cities without a brick and mortar location. They are used to communicating digitally and meeting up when and where they are needed.  This flexibility allowed 700 of its members to participate in the Olympic torch style relay without any major glitches.

The Old Glory Coast to Coast relay finishes at Walter Reed Hospital

The Old Glory Coast to Coast relay finishes at Walter Reed Hospital

Still, there were some spots in America’s heartland that didn’t have Team RWB members on hand. Volunteers flew out to those areas to carry Old Glory until they reached another chapter.

Team RWB board member Will Reynolds, a former U.S. Army infantry officer, who was wounded in Iraq carried the flag on the last leg to Walter Reed Military Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland – a hospital he knows well as he has undergone 25 surgeries there. Read More »


Celebrate Veterans Day 2014

Events and ceremonies honoring America’s Veterans happen November 11, 2014, throughout the U.S. and around the world. Please read more for some of the events, images and stories we’ve highlighted on via Storify.

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A Veterans Day message from VA Sec. Bob McDonald

In a message to America’s Veterans, VA employees, Veterans service organizations and others, Bob McDonald talks about his first 100 days as VA secretary and his vision for fulfilling the Department’s mission.  In his message, McDonald outlines the capabilities and recent advancements at VA, and welcomes collaboration of partners, employees and the public on VA’s transformation.

You can also read the secretary’s message to employees on VAntage Point, where he outlines changes within the organization and how to submit ideas for change.



In message to employees, Sec. McDonald outlines the way ahead to improve VA

Sec. Robert McDonald speaks with patients at the Phoenix VA Medical Center #ICARE

Sec. Bob McDonald speaks with patients in the Phoenix.

In the last few months as your Secretary, I have met and heard from Veterans and family members about how we can better serve Veterans.  I’ve also traveled to VA facilities across the country and have had the extraordinary opportunity to meet with you, the men and women who work on the front lines and behind the scenes to care for and serve Veterans every day.  These opportunities have informed my thinking as we work to plan for the future of the Department.

Already, more than 2,000 VA employees at 20 facilities serving 1.4 million Veterans have shared their perspectives on how we can improve this Department, and have provided insightful and thoughtful feedback about how VA should be organized to better serve Veterans. It is clear that our shared mission is important to you and your colleagues.  It’s also clear that you share my goal of making VA easier to navigate for Veterans. I am grateful for your contributions, and your support in this endeavor.

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Honoring Vets in your hometown

Vietnam Veterans participate in the Pittsburgh Veterans Day parade. VA photos by Glenn Hangard, 2011.

Vietnam Veterans participate in the Pittsburgh Veterans Day parade. VA photo by Glenn Hangard, 2011.

On Veterans Day, we take time to celebrate the service, sacrifice and achievements of almost 22 million Americans who served our nation in uniform – at home and abroad – during times of both war and peace.

We also pay tribute to those who served in the generations that preceded ours and who are no longer with us.

You can honor Veterans of today, and the past, at local events in your community.

HonoringVets_thunder_clap_V2If you attend an event, share your photos using #HonoringVets and we may share them. If you’re not able to attend an event, you can still participate online.  Join VA in #HonoringVets by joining our Thunderclap and sharing a message of gratitude via social media.

You can also follow VA’s social media accounts throughout the day on Veterans Day for photos and stories from Veterans Day activities nationwide.  Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or find a summary of events on our Storify page.