'This Is Horrible': Homeless Veterans Are Being Buried in Paupers' Graves Near Fort Moore

Fort Moore leaders unveil an official Fort Moore sign during a redesignation ceremony
Fort Moore leaders, along with members of the Moore family, unveil an official Fort Moore sign during a redesignation ceremony May 11, 2023 held at the post’s historic Doughboy Stadium. (Patrick Albright/U.S. Army)

Columbus has long been a home to veterans of the military with Fort Moore, formerly Fort Benning, having been a part of the area for over 100 years.

Some of these veterans struggle with life after the military. And in Columbus, some veterans are becoming homeless and dying alone and being buried in pauper graves.

While services for veterans are available through the Veterans Administration, sometimes these benefits aren't easily accessible to veterans. A few local individuals and organizations are helping to both help homeless veterans and preserve the memory of those veterans who have passed away.

As a result, a developing trend that is disturbing to those monitoring veterans and their plight is that homeless and indigent veterans are being buried in pauper graves within Columbus.

One of those watching the problem develop is Patricia Liddell. As a member of American Legion Post 333 in Columbus, Liddell works with the families of veterans who have died to help ensure they receive a funeral with full military honors.

Liddell has helped multiple families make sure their loved ones are sent off with the honor they deserve and with comrades there to wish them goodbye.

She said she's usually notified before a homeless or indigent veteran is buried so she can arrange for a full military funeral at Fort Mitchell in Alabama. However, this isn't always the case.

In some instances soldiers are buried in pauper graves in Columbus and that presents challenges in getting them buried properly.

Liddell said she is currently working on getting a full military funeral for three veterans who have been buried at Porterdale in Paupers graves in Columbus.

For a typical military funeral for a homeless or indigent veteran Liddell will contact the funeral service at Fort Mitchell and schedule the funeral and then have an acquaintance send out a press release to other veterans so they can give their fellow soldier a proper send off.

Liddell said at one soldier's funeral about 40 people showed up to the funeral.

"This soldier served his country and he needs to be sent home in a proper manner," Liddell said.

However, when a soldier is buried in a pauper funeral the process can take time to get them a proper burial. Liddell has to get the family to see if the veteran has a form that has the veterans service history.

The family must then fill out an affidavit allowing for the exhumation of their loved one. Afterwards, the funeral service company must take it to the health department which must approve the exhumation.

Liddell said in one case she's working on right now the affidavit for exhumation was filled out approximately a month prior and the veteran had not yet been exhumed.

In that case she said the veteran was an "up and coming young man" before taking a turn and died two blocks away from where his mother lived and didn't let his family know about his situation.

Liddell said his sister found out about her brother's death while searching for her nephew's obituary and her brother's name popped up. Liddell said the individual died in 2017 and just found out about his death this year.

In another case, a friend of one veteran found out his friend had passed after his buddy didn't meet with him at Oktoberfest in Columbus like they would each year. That soldier now lies in a pauper grave in Porterdale cemetery with grass overgrowing the cross placed above his grave.

The Graveyard

The pauper burial section of Porterdale Cemetery has grass ankle deep in some sections with uneven ground throughout.

Some graves are marked with crosses and a select few have headstones. However, some lie with no marking at al. In a row near the pauper section is the final resting place of four World War I soldiers. Some of the few with a proper military headstone.

Some graves are intricately decorated while some have only a mound of grass above them.

"We are our brother's keeper," said Liddell

Liddell walked around the pauper section of Porterdale Cemetery as thunder rumbled, lightning cracked and rain poured down from the dark gray clouds above. A somber scene for a final resting place.

"This is heart wrenching," Liddell said as she stood over the grave of one former soldier. "He served to give us the right to stand here, and look at how he's buried."

"I'm having real issues right now," Liddell went on to say. "It makes you want to cry, and I'm trying to hold back the tears."

Liddell said she believes that Columbus should have its own national cemetery due to the large number of veterans that live in the area.

As Liddell walked through the cemetery she kept repeating one phrase, "This is horrible."

Homeless Veterans

For homeless veterans, The Plummer Home is a respite from the streets. Founded in 2010 by the late Reverend Roy G. Plummer as a shelter for homeless veterans, the organization has helped more than 500 homeless veterans, said Plummer Home Board Chairman Greg Jordan.

"We restore veterans' lives," said Jordan.

Plummer served as a colonel in the Army, finishing his career as the chief of chaplains at Fort Benning, was a pastor for Faith Tabernacle Community Church for 28 years and was director of Army instruction for the JROTC program in the Muscogee County School District, according to Ledger-Enquirer reporting.

The Plummer Home currently has a house for male veterans shelter at 1214 18th street, a female veterans shelter at 965 Coral Drive and has partnered with Safehouse ministries for additional shelter should the need arise.

Jordan says Plummer Home has a partnership with the Freedom Home and has 25 allotted bedrooms for overflow.

"We take care of every homeless veteran in our community and beyond," Jordan said, stating that the Plummer Home has helped homeless veterans from outside of Columbus.

Jordan said one of the goals of the Plummer Home is to continue to grow to be able to do more for homeless veterans.

The Plummer home recently closed on the house on 18th street and plans are underway to renovate the structure.

Jordan explained that they both seek out homeless veterans to help and have veterans come to them seeking help.

At the time of the interview Plummer Home had six veterans at the 18th Street house, two veterans at the Coral Drive location and a dozen at a third location, according to Jordan.

A count conducted by Home for Good in January of 2023 showed that there were at least 16 homeless veterans with 12 being unsheltered and 4 being in emergency shelter.

National effort to help stem the tide of homeless veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced in March a goal to help find permanent housing for 38,000 homeless veterans across the country. A department spokesperson said of the 40,401 Veterans housed by VA in 2022, 2,443 returned to homelessness at some point last year.

The VA said 2,443 of those rehoused veterans became homeless again last year, but 86% of those Veterans were rehoused or on a path to rehousing by the end of the year.

For veterans needing help, the department urges those struggling to call the National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 877-4AID-VET (877-424-3838)."


(c)2023 the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, Ga.)

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