Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association and VA partner for Final Salute: The Last Mile


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It was a chance meeting between a Tampa VA Medical Center employee and a funeral director that led to a program that now honors deceased Veterans who have no one else to honor them as they transition to their final resting place.

Final Salute: The Last Mile provides a motorcycle escort to the Florida National Cemetery for Veterans who pass at Tampa and Bay Pines VA Medical Centers and who have no family to claim their remains.

David Allen, a Tampa VA biomedical information systems specialist and member of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, was looking for a little fresh air when he stepped out onto the hospital loading dock earlier this year. When he saw a hearse parked there with a flag-draped coffin clearly visible inside, his curiosity got the better of him.

From the Tampa VA to Florida National Cemetery

The Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association and VA partner to escort unclaimed Veterans to their final resting place.

“I was thinking this has got to be somebody important, so instead of going where I was going to go, I climbed down and went to talk to who I thought was the driver.” That person turned out to be the owner of Veterans Funeral Care. “We got to talking and he said, No, this is an unclaimed Vet, and that struck a chord with me. He explained that the Veteran had passed away and either had no family who would claim him or no family to claim him.”

The Final Journey

Allen found out that Veterans pass away without family to claim them several times a year at both Tampa and Bay Pines VA. When that happens, the hospital contracts Veterans Funeral Care to transport the Veteran’s remains to Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, Florida, more than 45 miles away, for a direct internment with no military honors. Those honors normally have to be requested by the family.

Allen, an Army Desert Shield/Desert Storm Veteran, has ridden with the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association (CVMA) for several years. He felt they could do something to honor these Veterans. So he spoke with the association’s executive board and the funeral home officials.

“We were fortunate enough to be able to sit down with both directors, and they absolutely loved the idea,” Allen said. “It was, why didn’t we know this was happening?  It really boils down to nobody knew.”

Official policies are now in place at both Tampa and Bay Pines VA recognizing Final Salute: The Last Mile as an official partnership between the hospitals and the CVMA. The first escort at Tampa took place in February 2019, and there have been eight more escort missions at Tampa and four at Bay Pines since then.

Now, whenever a Veteran passes away at the hospital with no family to claim the remains, either Allen or the Veteran Experience officer is notified. Allen starts the coordination process with his fellow CVMA members, decedent affairs and the funeral home. The funeral home now requests military honors for each Veteran as well.

Bigger rollout?

The program has been such a success that Allen recently received a challenge coin from Dr. Richard A. Stone, VHA’s executive in charge, thanking him for creating the program.

While both Tampa and Bay Pines VA signed on for The Final Salute: The Last Mile, Allen is now working with the Miami VA Medical Center to implement a similar program. There has been talk of possibly rolling it out nationally as well.

“I would love to hear that there would never be a Veteran who passed away at a VA where they did not get an escort, that didn’t have somebody to go and take them and be with them in that final moment,” Allen said. “Even if there’s not a CVMA, there’s a VFW Riders or American Legion Riders.”

The mission doesn’t end at the cemetery for the CVMA, either. The organization adds the name of each Veteran escorted to their rolls and toasts them at each membership meeting.

For Allen, the emotions involved in escorting these Veterans is worth the effort.

“There’s a sense of pride from saying, Hey, we stepped up and claimed this guy, we claimed him as a brother,” Allen said. “We did the right thing so that he didn’t go alone.”

Author

Ed Drohan

Ed Drohan is a public affairs specialist, at the James A. Haley VA Hospital, Tampa, Florida, and a retired Air Force master sergeant who has reported from Somalia, Haiti, New Orleans (post-Katrina) and Afghanistan.

Comments

  1. William Beebe    

    OUTSTANDING Patriots! I didn’t know we had vets being treated as chattel!

    I’m in Columbus OH and would also like to participate in respecting our Lords Patriot humanity!

    Micah 6:8

  2. Laurie S Koehler    

    I hope this gets started here in Sacramento, CA. I would hope that the VA would have somebody like the guys send me off to see my family in heaven. I already have my cremation paid (pd for it while I was still in Army) so I just need someone to get me to the cemetery. To the guys who do this, you are angels. God Bless You and your Families.

    1. Sean    

      The CVMA is nationwide. I myself live in the Bay Area and am a part of this group. https://www.combatvet.us/

  3. Nancy Jo Janoch    

    I would love to see this kind gesture go Nationwide for Veterans, such as this Marine! Hopefully it is available in SAN Antonio, TX.

  4. CPT Philip Stiles, US Army Reserve (Honor Guard)    

    It is important to note that families may still request military funeral honors even after internment. Additionally, Florida National Cemetery usually conducts a quarterly service to ensure veterans of such status are honored. Due to the candid nature of the solemn event, it tends to be very moving. Uniformed service members of the Honor Guard, military veterans motorcycle groups and other Veteran Service Organizations such as the American Legion and the VFW attend and participate this special ceremony.

    Upon the family’s request, Public Law 106-65 requires that every eligible Veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, to include folding and presenting the United States burial flag and the playing of Taps. The DOD program calls for funeral home directors to request military funeral honors on behalf of the Veterans’ family. More information is available on the website for Florida National Cemetery.

  5. Bill D    

    This made my day to come across this article … simply an outstanding effort put forth by all those involved !
    The gratitude over years n’ years never ceases to amaze !
    This really should be implemented thruout the USA !
    I’ve been an avid rider even prior to my active svc. days in the early to mid 70’s and beyond … still ride now 64.
    I’d surely join up if and whenever this’d take place near my area in a heartbeat !
    All my best goes out to all fellow vets … 🙂

  6. David Tatro    

    As a Marine combat veteran, it makes me proud to see my brothers taking charge and claiming our own. These boys that pass on alone are the brothers we never met. May they rest in peace and may the riders stay safe. SEMPER FI!!!

  7. Edward Keen    

    CVMA chapters in every state! Most have Facebook pages for your state. National meeting this year here in Jacksonville Florida in June. Thanks Special Ed 20-2

  8. Tim Snyder    

    This is Tim Snyder Road Captain for the Warriors MC in central Florida. We are a Native American / First Responder /Veteran MC. We would like to assist the CVMA if needed with the final salute/last mile
    Tim Snyder.

  9. Jim campbell    

    I am in the Dade Broward area and would like to participate

  10. Luis Disotuar    

    You guys in Tampa make me so proud to be a Veteran!

    Semper Fidelis Brothers!

    I am in Chicago ready to join or start a chapter!

    Luis D

  11. Eric Edward Chandler    

    I work at the Veterans Cemetery in Millsboro, DE, and it numbs my heart when the Fallen VETS have no families…

  12. Teddy Hartman    

    I have a family but would greatly apreciate a CMVA honor guard when I pass.

  13. Iliana Giles    

    Thank you CVMA brothers and sisters! We do the same at 20-4 ❤️✝️

  14. Patwoman    

    Patriot Guard Riders have been doing this for years. I’m glad to see more motorcycle veteran groups joining the cause. Thank you to all who honor our fallen.

  15. John D Witherspoon    

    Great program…hope l can do the email entry

  16. Paul Chunglo Jr.    

    Right on Brothers!! You are all awesome for stepping up to the plate and taking action where action was needed. These are the kind of stories I love to read and they make me PROUD to be A VETERAN!!

  17. gary rew    

    I would like more info on CMA and how to become a member in my area. I am in Delaware county in Glenolden, pa.

    1. Conrad matt    

      Combatvet.us is the National site

  18. Duane Fly    

    This is great to here about the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association. While in the military I had the honor of performing military honors for the first homeless veteran buried through the Homeless Veterans Burial Program in Missouri and I understand how rewarding this is. I applaud you for your service CVMA!

    1. David Allen    

      Visit the national CVMA website at https://www.combatvet.us/

      There is good info and a tab to fill out your info and someone will get back with you.

  19. Mike Dee    

    We need this to be a nationwide effort.

    1. Carmen L Wulf "Meha- CVMA 20-2"    

      Yes we need this program in every CVMA chapter country wide. I would be honored to participate in a burial of any veteran. ❤️

  20. Don Schwebel    

    Melts my heart. So proud to be a vet

Comments are closed.