Survey of Medical Examiners and Coroners
The Compensation and Pension (C&P) Service of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), conducted The Survey of Medical Examiners and Coroners to determine the process they use to ascertain the veteran status of decedents whose remains are unclaimed. The survey was precipitated by a recent incident in Chicago where local authorities did not contact VA prior to burying the decedents who were subsequently identified as veterans. This incident sparked a congressional inquiry concerning the process used by VA to ensure that remains of unclaimed veterans received the respect they have earned.
This study was designed to gather basic information on the relative number of unclaimed decedents throughout the nation in a year and the current steps that medical examiners, coroners, and others who have the responsibility for the disposition of these remains take to determine the veteran status of the decedents.
The major findings of this study were:
· The responsibilities typically thought of as being under the authority of a medical examiner or coroner may be assigned to a justice of the peace or, in rural areas, to a county sheriff, who may or may not have the additional title of coroner.
· The number of people who serve in this function appears to be constantly changing.
· Only 15% of medical examiners and coroners reported that they attempted to verify the veteran status of identified, unclaimed decedents all of the time during the period from January 1997 to August 2001. Conversely, 75% never made such an attempt.
· The most common reason for not attempting to verify the veteran status of identified, unclaimed decedents during this period was that there were no such cases. This reason was mentioned by 65% of those asked this question.
· While only 6% of the jurisdictions reporting any identified unclaimed decedents had 51 or more such cases, this group accounted for 61% of all cases reported.
· More than half (54%) of all jurisdictions reported that they kept records on identified, unclaimed decedents. Most (69%) of those keeping records, reported that records are kept indefinitely.
· Currently, over one in three (36%) of jurisdictions reported that they attempt to verify the veteran status of identified, unclaimed decedents compared to the 17% who made such an attempt all (15%) or most (2%) of the time between January 1997 and August 2001. Among those jurisdictions that had at least one identified, unclaimed decedent in the last 12 months, three in five (60%) currently attempt to verify veteran status.
· Verification requests are most often (57%) made to the Department of Veterans Affairs with an additional 27% of such requests made to various state and county offices.