San Rafael, CA – The Marin County Veterans Services Office in San Rafael has a new volunteer devoted to oversight of the burial of indigent military vets and their dependents.
California law says military veterans and their dependents should not be buried in pauper’s graveyards. They should be laid to rest in the hallow grounds of the national cemeteries with their brothers and sisters, said Marin County Veterans Services Officer Sean Stephens.
Sean Stephens, a U.S. Army veteran and the Veterans Services Officer, announced that James Cook has joined his team as Veterans Remains Officer and will implement a program to meet state requirements for such burials. The Veterans Services Office is a division of the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services.
Stephens said two locations in Marin are described as pauper’s graveyards, where at public expense bodies were buried of people whose families could not afford a burial. They are located at San Quentin State Prison and a plot adjacent to the Jeannette Prandi Children Center on Idylberry Road in Lucas Valley. An unknown number of vets and their family members are buried there.
Assembly Bill No. 1644, passed in 2010, amended sections of the California Military and Veterans Code to mandate that the Board of Supervisors in each county designate an honorably discharged veteran to assure the interment of the body of any veteran or spouse or eligible dependent of a veteran who dies in the county. It applies to the bodies of indigent, abandoned or unclaimed veterans and dependents of veterans, including those without sufficient means to defray burial expenses.
“Out of respect and honor to our veterans, they should be laid to rest in the hallow grounds of the national cemeteries with their brothers and sisters,” said Stephens, who served four tours of combat duty in Afghanistan. “President Abraham Lincoln said, ‘To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow.’ That is a promise we need to keep. California law says veterans and their dependents should not be buried in pauper’s graveyards, and we intend to adhere to that.”
Cook, a retired San Rafael Police Department officer, served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam and at the Presidio San Francisco during 1968-71. He recently joined the Missing In America Project that is intent on the identification, location, verification and movement of vets’ bodies and those of their dependents. Cook contacted Stephens about the volunteer position in Marin after consulting with Sonoma County’s Veterans Remains Officer, Ron Collier.
Sonoma County reported in December 2018 that it had successfully relocated the graves of 115 veterans and five dependents in a national cemetery since it implemented its Veterans Remains Officer program in 2012. Napa County appointed a Veterans Remains Officer in 2015.
“Since the Veterans Remains Officer is an unpaid position, we needed to find just the right person to handle a lot of paperwork and good follow-up,” Stephens said. “We’re really happy and thankful that James fit that description and was willing to volunteer for us.”
The Marin County Veterans Services Office helps veterans, their spouses and children obtain all types of veterans benefits. In a report to the Board of Supervisors on January 16, Stephens said his four-person staff has seen a 20 percent increase in visits over the past year. There are approximately 12,000 military veterans living in Marin and the office had 2,754 contacts with vets or their family members in 2018, he said.
The Veterans Services Office staff works closely with elected officials, nonprofits and other agencies to alleviate veteran homelessness, assist with health care eligibility and applications, and provide guidance to recently discharged veterans who are reacclimating to civilian life. The staff members also serve as liaisons to law enforcement partners, the District Attorney’s Office staff, the Probation Department staff, the Public Defender staff, and Marin County Jail personnel.
“Since I came on board in 2010, our office has morphed into handling more than just benefits claims,” Stephens said. “We’ve made lots of customer service enhancements. There are many veterans who don’t realize that they are entitled to certain benefits, often because they did not serve in a combat zone and come under enemy fire. But if they raised their right hand, took the oath and served their country, they are veterans. Our staff not only works hard to line them up with benefits they deserve but also for widows and children who don’t realize they are eligible.”
Call 415-473-6193 or check www.marinhhs.org/veterans-services to learn more.