VA Reviewing Headstone Policy for Old Gravesites

Readers of Tom Philpott's Military Update Column Sound Off

Could you mention something in your column about the VA rule change concerning military gravestones?

To obtain a headstone from VA, a letter from next-of-kin is now required with the request.  Consequently, there are thousands of graves going unmarked for veterans of the Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican War and Civil War.

Fraternal organizations such as Sons of the American Revolution and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War are no longer able to obtain markers for these graves because it's nearly impossible to locate relatives of these men.

LEE CORBIN Via email

VA's National Cemetery Administration (NCA) issued a 2009 regulation that limits who can request markers for unmarked graves.  Until the new regulation, VA had been providing markers for graves that historians and others identified.  In doing so, NCA, in effect ignored existing policy that of requests only from next of kin.

As awareness of the 2009 regulation spread, more requests came to NCA from persons interested in history but of no relation to the deceased.  The applications have been rejected.  For the most part, these are graves of veterans buried before World War I.

The intent is to avoid the possibility that persons lacking a familial relationship will alter gravesites in a manner descendants would not desire.  There have been instances of well-meaning individuals and organizations marking graves or replacing headstones without knowledge of family members. 

VA officials said they know that the definition of "applicant" is seen as too limiting.  Therefore, NCA is reviewing its regulation.  If changes are proposed, they will be published in the Federal Register under normal notice-and-comment requirements of the federal rulemaking process. – Tom Philpott

Lee Corbin responds: I can understand VA's concern for non-family members replacing gravestones.  But there are thousands of veterans who served before the Spanish-American War who are in graves that are unmarked, mismarked or marked with badly deteriorated stones.  Finding next-of-kin for these men is almost impossible. – L.C.

VET STATUS FOR RETIRED RESERVES

I'm appalled to read that Congress is just getting around to awarding National Guard and Reserve retirees "vet" status.  This is the result of not having enough former military in the House and Senate.

We cannot call our Reservists and National Guardsmen veterans after 20 years of service simply because they didn't have 180 consecutive days on active duty?  What about the 12-hour Selected Reserve Force duty my unit was on during riots in Washington, D.C., many years ago, or the 12-hour standby we were on during the first Gulf War.  We got oak leaf clusters for our National Defense Medals but we didn't deserve vet status?

 There are a lot of reasons why I question my loyalty to country.  Add sacrificing 26 years of my life to people who don't appreciate it to the list.  As a retired veteran with three years, 29 days and some hours of active duty, an abundance of Active Duty for Training over 22-plus years of reserve duty, and a service-connected [disabled] veteran, I'm ashamed of my government.

JAMES W. HOWE JR Sergeant First Class, USA-Ret. Via email

That's great news about veteran status for Reserve and National Guard.  It's 23 years for me.

MIKE JAKUB Via email

MORE ON SLEEP APNEA

It was interesting to read your story on veterans receiving disability compensation for sleep apnea.  I know a person who was diagnosed in service, retired, draws a 50-percent rating for sleep apnea because he has a CPAP, and has not used the machine for several years.  I wonder if VA monitors those having the rating to see if don't need machine supplies?

I have just received my final decision from the VA appeals court.  They denied my claim, which has been ongoing since 2000.  They said the condition was not diagnosed in service.  VA has paid for four machines for me over the last ten years, and continues to pay for supplies for this new machine.  The last one I turned had more than 12,000 hours on it.

I do not understand the logic: We'll pay for your machine and all supplies but we will not give you a disability rating for the condition.

R. ROBINSON USMC-Ret. Via email

The VA should conduct a study of causes of sleep apnea in active duty service members.  I have the condition.  I had it in the military when I weighed 175 pounds.  VA denied my claim because of insufficient evidence [that the connection resulted from time in service.]

In my opinion, my sleep apnea was caused by lack of sleep during multiple deployments. We typically got four hours or less.  Often, we would hear tired soldiers snoring loudly.  Sometimes you could tell they stopped breathing and would start back again.  Several soldiers told me I sometimes stopped breathing to the point they had to wake me.

We did not know what sleep apnea was so we chalked it up as unusual snoring.  Thought I made this point, my claim was denied.

After my claim was denied I was too discouraged to appeal.  Because of this article, I am encouraged to resubmit my claim.

AUBREY R. CAMPBELL Sergeant First Class, USA-Ret. Via email

A Breathalyzer and blood test should be administered in conjunction with any sleep study to evaluate sleep apnea in service.

The vast majority of these service members are fit.  The only way they would "fail" the apnea test is to drink alcohol or take muscle relaxers before the sleep test.

A 50-percent disability rating is $1000 a month for the rest of their lives.  I would submit most with the disability are gaming the system.  I recommend that VA "reevaluate" those rated 50 percent for sleep apnea with concurrent blood test and Breathalyzer.  They would catch a lot of fraud.

A.O.J Via email

Many of us who had repeated deployments to a combat zone should be considered for a CPAP machine.

I completed four deployments to the Middle East. My doctor confirmed my sleeping issues.  I'm grateful for my CPA, which helps me to get through the night.  However, it will take many years to fix my sleeping habits to what they were before the war in Iraq.

Let's not punish real veterans for this support.

MICHAEL NARES Staff Sergeant Via email

Letters may be edited for clarity or length.  Write to Military Forum, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA 20120-1111, send e-mail to militaryforum@aol.com or visit www.militaryupdate.com

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