At VA National Cemeteries, Families’ Wishes Come First


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Our focus at the National Cemetery Administration always has been and always will be on Veterans and their families—and how we can best serve them in their hour of need. VA operates 131 national cemeteries across the country and conducts over 111,000 interments a year. In each case, the wishes of the Veteran’s family come first. Families decide whether and what type of religious service will take place.

More than 70 percent of NCA employees are Veterans, including me. We take seriously our Sacred Trust to honor Veterans and families with final resting places in national shrines. This includes meeting families’ needs and respecting their wishes regarding their loved one’s committal service.

We cherish the religious freedoms our Veterans secured for us. At all VA national cemeteries, families are free to choose and use the burial rites and rituals that are meaningful or sacred to them. During interments, the name of God or Jesus is not only allowed, it is freely spoken at VA national cemeteries across the country. Families are equally free to have a service without religious references.

Whatever type of service the family chooses for their loved one, we both share a common goal: to ensure a dignified, committal service worthy of their loved one’s service and sacrifice to our Nation.

VA national cemeteries are hallowed grounds in honor of all who have served and sacrificed on behalf of our Nation. VA ceremonies are inclusive and honor the faith traditions of all Veterans.

I am proud that VA’s national cemeteries are nationally-recognized for their commitment to excellence and top-rated customer satisfaction. For the past 10 years, the American Customer Satisfaction Index has rated VA National Cemeteries as the top-performing organization in the federal government. These high customer service satisfaction ratings are reflected every day by the service our employees and volunteers provide to Veterans and their families.

A career VA employee, Steve Muro is VA’s Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs. He is also a Vietnam Veteran.

Author

Steve Muro

Comments

  1. Greg    

    What the hell is wrong with you people? Do you even care to read the article you’re commenting about?

    YOU ARE NOT BANNED FROM MENTIONING GOD, JESUS, MUHAMMAD ETC. You are only required to follow the wishes of the family of the interred person. It’s plainly stated that if no religious rites or words are requested by them, that you are not to perform any or say any at the funeral ceremony. Anyone who does request religious rites and/or words though, will get their request fulfilled. No problem.

    And don’t act like it’s some huge bloody hardship to fill out a form. The people administering the funeral service are sympathetic, but not psychic. If you want something, you need to fill out the form, so that they know, and so that if any attendees question them about the nature of the service, they can show on paper that the request was made.

    Sheesh, you’d think you idiots had never seen or heard the word “no” before. Mention it anywhere around your religious proselytism and you just go off track entirely.

    1. Mark    

      Greg,

      Thank you, thank you, thank you. Been thinking that since I read the opening salvo here.

  2. Bob Nelson    

    The judge gave the VA a month to investigate and report on alligations made concerning the prohibition supposedly made by the Director of the VA’s Houston National Cemetary against the use of the words Jesus and God during religious burial ceremonies at the cemetary. Has the VA issued its report yet? Could you please provide an update on this story/issue.

  3. Annette L. Zach    

    I am from TEXAS and proud of it..only Iam sickened to see what is going on at the Houston National Cemetery. Please remove Arlene Ocaseo who is using her agenda to remove Christian faith. Many have tried and lost…My father served in WW11,my husband two tours in Vietam, our two sons served. We are a Nation founded under God..be proud of that…..There is NO WAY THAT ANYONE COULD MAKE ME NOT SPEAK OF MY LORD JESUS CHRIST. Why are the VFW’S, FUNERAL HOMES ALLOWING THIS..WHAT WILL ms Ocaseo do SHOT them…deny they, OR NOT LET THEM come on to the proverty…it belongs to us and she can not do that……Remember we are taxpayers, paying her salary and the salary of Ecic Shinsiki. They need to be removed and we need to go on as before giving thanks to God for not destroying this Nation. Remove these two people, and people of a great nation do not let them stop you from speaking of God…DO IT WITH A SHOUT FOR THE VETERANS who served us. Thank you Jesus for our Nation under God. Thank you all VETERANS.

  4. Norma Hunter    

    I appreciate and agree with Josef Kozma. My father is a veteran. I was born in a military hospital. My family has served in the military dating back to the Revolutionary War. I am proud to be a Christian and an American. I pray for the men and women who are serving today. I don’t want to lose the liberties we enjoy in this great nation. I am saddened that Ms. Ocasio pushes her personal beliefs on the citizens of Houston but denies others to express their personal beliefs.
    We are losing more and more by allowing others to dictate what we may or may not do. More and more we are becoming what our military veterans have fought to keep out of the world. Think about Vietnam and Korea. Those wars were fought to keep Communism from spreading. We need to assess what is really happening and pray, yes, pray, for help.

  5. Betsy Blackmore    

    Both of my parents were buried in Arlington. We had a Catholic Mass said for each of them. At no time did anybody object to the Mass being said.
    At no time did anybody confront us before, during, or after the burial with a concern. I think Ted Puryear says everything quite succinctly.

  6. Josef Kozma    

    What it looks like here is that we have a rogue liberal bureaucrat who indeed is hostile to Christianity and Jesus Christ running the show in Houston, her arrogance should be dealt with through at the very least a verbal reprimand officially instructing her to never overstep her bounds and have the family’s choice regarding religious terminology in their deceased persons interment to be honored and respected. I believe if one veteran was interred without his or her desires being met with regard to religious language content in their own burial service or the deceased family’s desires not being met with regard to religious language content; a great evil has been foisted upon that veteran or his or her family. How would you Mr. Muro, like to be put in the ground without, Your God’s name being mentioned and a blessing being pronounced upon your remains, I am assuming you yourself have a faith tradition. Greater than 90% of American Soldiers currently dying are Christians, thus the Bible and the Cross should stay at the Chapel, also other Holy Books for other faiths should also be present,and appropriate religious symbols as well. If Arleen Ocasio, is hostile to God and Jesus she should have chosen another line of work, than one which involves funerals, a time for most when faith is critical to loved ones peace of mind. It looks to me like she should be swiftly fired with impunity. May God bless all who read this through Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, via the Holy Ghost

  7. Scott Cline    

    Our Founding Fathers understood that true Freedom requires freedom of religion. True religious freedom requires that the various elements of government remain totally neutral on the subject. It is NOT my right as a citizen to force my Christian faith on others – ever. It IS my responsibility as a citizen to be certain that every Protesant, Mormon, Catholic, Muslim, Buddist, Scientoligist, etc, etc, or idiot is allowed freedom of religion.

    The fact that this country was established under a predominately Christian overview does not allow us to act as the Taliban do and try to force the presence of our Christian symbols as Government established “correct” symbols.

    It is correct that each family be allowed to determine what if any religious content is to be connected to each funeral. It is not correct that anyone outside the family be allowed to impose religious content.

    As much as your own prejudices may want it, this means that the common use “Chapel” must NOT contain a Christian Bible, nor a cross, nor any other symbol of a specific religion except as brought in and taken out by the family for their service.

    Do you really believe in Freedom? Then have the courage to practice it.

    If any goverment official in any capacity denies these freedoms to the citizenry, then they should be disciplined, ultimately including dismissal.

  8. Ted Puryear    

    Director Muro
    Thanks you for this explanation on VA policy on the use of”God” and “Jesus “in VA burials. My Father and Mother are both buried in Arlington National Cemetery and I found the claims that these words were not allowed in the Houston cemetery to be puzzling to say the least. It just did not add up given my own experience with Veteran burials (I am a Viet Nam vet with combat experience). I was made aware of the situation by a Facebook friend. His conclusion was that Obama’s Marxist agenda was responsible for this action in an effort to end religious freedom. Furthermore he described Obama appointee Sec Eric Shinsiki as the poster child in the assault on our religious freedoms and liberty. In other words this West Point Grad who was wounded three times in Viet Nam, whose men apparently loved him for his bravery and valor and who rose to the rank of four star General and Army Chief of Staff is a trader. If you look at the video of the protest rally and read the blogs on this issue there is a common political theme – the current administration (you included) is anti-Christian anti freedom and anti-American
    Sir, you and the VA are being demonized unfairly. The initial reaction of your accusers was not a request for clarification but rather they found an opportunity to seize a moment for political gain. But there are many deeply religious people responding to this action not concerned about political gain and want a meaningful explanation. They are deeply offended. While your statement is good for me the saboteurs will not rest. If you don’t put this to bed they will bury you so go on offense.
    With Respect
    Ted Puryeaer
    PS if this Director is rouge with these policies she needs to go

  9. Larry McNamara    

    I think that the VA should meet with the Houston VSO council if there is one.
    I would ask them (the VSOs) how to deal with the situation. Explain that the rules are not to offend them but to try and meet the needs of the family. If Veteran groups want to show support to the families and honor the veteran they need to undterstand that they can not have one service that fits all.

    I would explain that a christian ceromony is as hurtful to a a muslim family as a muslim ceromony would be to a christain family.

    Then I would listen. Veteran trying to provide support, care as much as the VA. They want to do the right thing. They just don’t want to be told what they can do or say.

    The answer might be as simple as VA letting the support groups know what type of service the family wants and VSOs complying with those desires. It would take a little work but the result could be an appropriate tribute designed and acommplished by Veterans for Veterans.
    For what it is worth.

  10. Wayne Crupper    

    Veterans, and their families are not going to stand for religious discrimination by the Veterans Administration, or their employees. We, the veterans, served this country to preserve our freedoms. But, NOT to let some atheist/agnostic, and/or political idealogue to take them away.
    The VA must fire the Director of the Houston Veterans Cemetary, quickly and highly publicized.

  11. Ted Daywalt    

    Steve Muro, your bureaucratic comments do not square with the reality of what is actually happening in the field, most notably what Arleen Ocasio is doing at the Houston VA Cemetary. . She has banned the words “God” and “Jesus Christ” in the burial ceremonies of deceased veterans. She wants to personally approve each prayer (which are subject to her censorship) in advance of a burial service. She has removed the Bible and the cross from the chapel. Shortly after she arrived at the cemetery, she shut down the chapel and turned it into a “meeting facility.” It is not the business of the federal government to be engaged in anti-religious activity, especially at what is considered by many to be a religious ceremony—the burial of one of our veterans.

    Your words do not match what your employees are doing in the field. Are you that far removed from reality?

    Arleen Ocasio needs to be fired.

    Ted Daywalt
    President
    VetJobs

    1. Ted Puryear    

      Actually Ted they do square with what is happening in the field i.e. all other VA Cemeteries. Houston from all I can find is the only one where this ban has occurred. Additionally, I buried my mother who joined my father at Arlington a few months ago and the service was standard Episcopal.

      I agree that if what is being reported is indeed true as you have stated, she needs to go. If you’re interested you can read my reaction to this entire episode below.

  12. Bill Booker    

    Honorable Mr Muro,

    I am a Texan, a Vietnam Vet and the son of a WWII and Korean War vet. My father is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. I am absolutely outraged at the action of the Houston National Cemetery director Arleen Ocasio’s non-professional conduct. She has demonstrated a lack of knowledge toward the religious liberties of families, organizations and spiritual leaders who perform burial activities at the cemetery.

    DO NOT let Director Ocasio interfere with our freedom of religion. We put our lives on the line and many died for America. How and where we choose to be buried and have funeral services is our final choice.

    America just spent a well publicized day after killing Bin Laden, ensuring he had a proper Muslim burial. He was washed and prepared and prayers were said before he was buried at sea. Why on earth would we do that for The number one enemy of America and NOT do that for our own American Veterans? Bin Laden’s religious customs and rituals were respected. Why not ours?

  13. kevin walter    

    when is america gonna care about america and the christian belief it was founded on. we care about everyone elses feelings and thoughts untill our own no longer matter. what happens when we are oppressed, suck it up and move on. might as well let terrorist be take over people. take god out of the constition and funerals might as well turn the country over.

  14. Roy    

    I think all must be hearing and not listening…I believe all veteran families are allowed to pray as they wish at their family members burial. Now some may not understand why Jesus or God was not used, but that is family choice not an outsiders choice.

  15. Richard Hoskins    

    If you are reading this, read this… http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43622453/

    Is it really true? Say and do two diffrent things….

  16. Gerald Jones    

    I am not sensitive to anyone’s religion just in most cases respectful. I expect everyone to do the same.If you don’t like Jesus or any verbiage of Christianity…stay home! Better still ..too bad!
    In Jesus’ name,
    Sergeant Major Jones USA Retired

  17. Bob Smith    

    The concern is not that Veteran’s families are being disrespected. Of course their wishes should be followed. The issue is whether an uncaring & perhaps biased federal bureaucrat has the right to censor the free speech of those who seek to honor their fallen comrades. The indignation is toward ONE government official exceeding the Constitutional prohibition on limiting free speech. While she is free to hate God, she is not free to violate the Constitution

    1. Navy Nancy    

      Interesting that Bob Smith’s interpretation is that a cemetery director is “hating God” if they are working to ensure that the ceremonies for veteran burials include only those religious elements that are desired by the Family of the Deceased.

      1. Sindy    

        I dont think Bob meant that the way you took it…he was talking only of the one Director that was over stepping her bounds and limiting the use of the the words of “In Jesus’s Name ” etc….but we don’t really know if she is a God hater because of her actions so thoses words may have been a bit harsh…as long as the problems have been dealt with then its ok by me..Hopefully the security problem has been dealt with too by now.

  18. Hooter    

    I first saw this in the press a few days ago.. My thoughts had been…

    The idea of any veteran who swore an oath, served to defend the Constitution of the United States, one of this documents principle statements in the first amendment right of religious freedom would be denied by the federal government this. during his or her last moments above this earth is reprehensible.

    Well… The VFW and American Legion are both involved. I see Honorable Mr. Muro is addressing this isolated Texas issue.. According to the national press, government response had been not all allegations are true. Congress is also making inquiry into this… Obviously enough attention has been brought any valid issues and concerns will be rectified.

    Mr. Muro thank you for your blog post.

  19. BMS    

    Honorable Mr Muro
    We can only hope that your statement will open the eyes of the press and the people sending all the hate messages regarding the National Cemetery Administration. I have family members interred in national cemeteries and NEVER has anyone from NCA told me what type of service could be held, however, I am glad that NCA takes responsibility for what the government employees and volunteers said to my family. Inappropriate religious comments which might offend my belief is not needed during this time of duress. At the time of interment, I want to hear that I should take comfort from my loved ones service to this nation, or be thanked for my loved ones honorable service, as it is a time to celebrate the life of the honorable veteran being memorialized.

  20. Michael Vance    

    I am glad that someone from within the VA set straight the inflamatory stories reported in the media concerning VA burials at National Cemetaries

  21. Dean P. Evans    

    Steve Muro has stated what we all should agree on and respect. There will always be misunderstandings within any system of this size, it is human nature. We must not degrade, we must support and honor. NOT TO CORRECT a problem is wrong. I respect and support our VA system, 100%. A Vietnam Vet, 80% disability, and a patient in the VA system for 15 + years. THANK YOU VA.

  22. Terry Keiper    

    My dad was a US Navy World War II veteran and his ashes are buried at a national cemetery in Boynton Beach, FL. The service was wonderful and so were the employees there that saw that everything was handled “just right.” I am a Vietnam Vet and I really appreciate the service you provide to the families of deceased veterans. Keep up the great work.

  23. Carl J. Boyer    

    As a Veteran the announcement by HOUSTON NATIONAL CEMETERY FORBIDDING IS USE OF THE NAME OF GOD OR JESUS in Christian burials is shameful!

  24. Sergeant Major Israel    

    It should be whatever the families request! G-d is a generic name used by all major religions. Mention of Jesus is offensive to Jewish and Moslem Veterans as Mohammed would be to Christians. General public prayer should not include phrases, like we pray “in his name” which alludes to Jesus, or Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which I think is Catholic etc. So We must understand and be sensitive to all religions at this moment, the internment of our beloved Veterans, the most spiritual and sorrowful event in a families life. It must be the families choice not the government or director of the VA or the Houston Cemetery Director.

    1. Sue Sedberry    

      God, Jesus and other spiritual titles should not be “offensive” to anyone – especially if you have ever taken a few hours to research the history of the world. Religion and Spiritual Enlightenment provide a larger meaning to life – and an escape from man’s limited opinions. We should be rejoicing that we live in one of the few places on Earth where we can believe in a higher power!

      What is offensive is a “man” or “woman” of human flesh deciding what words will or will not be used during a memorial service for someone they never met. Each family gets to choose, and whoever attends, visits, give thanks or weeps at a national cemetery is protected by the First Amendment. I will be at the Houston National Cemetery tomorrow and look forward to praying out loud.

    2. Paul Curtis    

      Sergeant Major Israel, I am amazed at your comments. My family is both Jewish and Christian and not one of them is offended by the religious views of the others. If people come to my funeral knowing that it will be a rite of Christian Burial and aren’t smart enough to know that they are going to hear things they might not agree with then I really don’t want them at my funeral because they are way too thin skinned to be hanging around with me or my family. They are going to hear other things that will really upset them and we don’t want that now, do we?

      Whether you or anyone else likes it or not, these are private funeral services and as such, are not subject to the wishes of people of other faiths or no faith at all. I have NEVER been offended by the remarks of people of other faiths in expressing their religious views and expect reciprocity otherwise, just stay home.

      1. Navy Nancy    

        While I may be cognizant of major religions including Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian, I don’t necessarily want all of their gods invoked at my interment. The point is that FAMILY of the deceased gets to be the decider of what religious elements (IF any) are included in the burial ritual for their deceased, not the volunteers that participate in the process. So religious elements CAN be offensive to family members IF they don’t want them included in their service, and this IS about honoring the wishes of the family, Next of Kin; NOT about allowing the First Amendment Freedom of Expression for volunteers, NOR about deciding what anyone attending the committal service as a family or friend might potentially be offended by.

    3. Arianna Eisenberg    

      I take umbridge with this statement. As a Jew I no more take “offense” to the name of Jesus (or Mohammad) than I would Eliahu being spoken. Jesus was, first and foremost, a Rabbi – a JEW. However, I can’t imagine if it’s a Christian, Jewish or Islamic service the Funeral Home would not know that in the first place, ask about the kind of service to be held, and then accomodate them. However, personally I’m just THRILLED that anyone these days is in their faith. I applaud it. Just because it’s not my belief or proclivity doesn’t mean I will EVER take offense to anyone’s else faith. Our lack of tolerance, even in the face of insanity, is bewildering and sad. When you die you’re DEAD – and at that point it really does not matter WHAT religion you were in life – you are one with the Universe at that point – and FINALLY – hopefully, enlightened!

      1. Arianna Eisenberg    

        I want to add that if the Houston cemetery, indeed, has made these comments then they need to be admonished strongly and urge that people demand their money back from any burial plot they may have purchased in advance, and NOT to use their services.

  25. jim    

    Nice article you have written; perhaps you could respond to this article: http://secure.afa.net/afa/activism/TakeAction.asp?id=399

  26. Ronald R Zoerner    

    Mr. Steve Muro,
    I recieved an email from a friend in the form of a letter which states that the rules of the Houston National Cemetary prohibit the use of God,God Bless and any reference to God before, during or after burial. In addition, the script for the burial has to be sumitted to the Cemetary director for approval. The Cemetery Director has also closed the Chapel at the cemetery and it is used for storage.

    I believe what the Director of the Houston National Cemetery is violating the Constitutional rights of the veterans being buried and their families. I think the Director should be replaced with someone who is going to afford the veterans and their families their rights under the Constitution.

    1. Angelia Phillips    

      Ronald, The story you read regarding Houston National Cemetery was not exactly truthful. You see the director told the “volunteers” to refrain fro imposing their religious beliefs on the families after several “volunteers” ignored the families request of no religious references. The chapel is locked because it had been vandalized several times.. it is opened at request.

      1. Paul Curtis    

        Angelia, if your statement is true please explain why Pastor Scott Rainey was forbidden from praying in Jesus name and why the remarks for each service must be submitted prior to use for approval by the director. In addition, if what you say is true, why isn’t the director responding for herself? Using vandalism as an excuse for locking the chapel means that all the headstones with crosses on them will probably be removed because they might be vandalised. Pretty poor excuse for bad security!

        1. fulton rivers    

          ….and the Director of the Houston VA Cemetery has disconnected her voice mail and is not accepting phone calls as of this email……go figure that one out!

        1. lee hoffman    

          It is amazing how a few can take a fact and twist it so out of shape as to no longer be recognizable. This is exactly what happened here, apparently. Volunteers were instructed not to invoke the name of God or Jesus when the family did not want a religious service or held another religious belief. Then these “good Samaratan Christians” ran with this instruction and tweaked it by leaving out the part regarding the families wishes.
          The truth is there are those “good Christians” who feel it their duty to invoke God’s name and cram Jesus into any ceremony or activity, regardless of the desire of the host (which the family in a funeral is).
          Now I see that there is a petition being generated by some outfit called Truth Bomb, which will reach thousands of weak minded individuals, quick to jump on the victim band wagon, and thousands more who are more than eager to jump on anything having the potential of making our President look evil or worse anti-American. Please! Stay clear of these evil-mongers.
          With so many real problems needing clear, level thinking, let this one go. You are in no way in danger of losing your freedom of speech or religion, but remember others have a right to request not to have your brand of speech or religion at the funeral of their loved one crammed down their throats, no matter how pious the face.

        2. Jim Phelps    

          Lee, where can one get the information about this that you reference. Reading all the comments leaves one with the feeling this occurred at Salem rather than Houston.

      2. J. Waldo Pepper    

        Angela, you are telling a lie and so are the people at Houston. I called and was told the Chapel is being repaired but yet I know for a fact it is a warehouse and meeting area for that “woman” who runs the place. As a Vietnam Veteran I am highly incensed at you people for putting that “woman” in charge. She needs to be terminated without pay and benefits.

        You liberals may piss on the “World’s Greatest Generation” you are laying to rest but with the Vietnam Veteran you won’t piss down our backs and call it rain. Silver Spur Guns RVN 67-69

        1. Roger Young    

          Waldo, like you I’m not buying that this was some simple misunderstanding such as it is being portrayed here! If that was the case why have legal proceedings beein started against Houston National Cemetery?

          This appears to be a CYA attempt to provide cover for the actions of the director at Houston. Silver Spur Scout crew chief, RVN, 69-70.

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