Schumer pushes VA for change in headstone rules
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Thousands of Civil War veterans are buried in Brooklyn’s historic Green-Wood Cemetery, but an estimated 2,000 of them are resting in unmarked graves, according to US Senator Charles Schumer, who said something should be done to give these heroes the posthumous recognition they deserve.
The graves are unmarked because of a new rule imposed by the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) which states that only a direct descendent of a 19th Century war veteran can request a headstone for the soldier’s grave. The VA has omitted cemeteries, historians, museums and veterans associations from requesting headstones for unmarked graves of Civil War veterans. As a result, many veterans are in unmarked graves because there may not be a next-of-kin, Schumer said.
Schumer is calling on Veteran Affairs (VA) to reverse its decision and allow cemeteries and other interested parties to obtain gravestones.
“All veterans deserve to have their final resting spot marked and honored with a headstone and this is especially true of our Civil War veterans,” Schumer said.
“I was shocked to learn that Brooklyn’s famous Green-Wood cemetery, just blocks from my home, has approximately 2,000 unmarked graves of Civil War heroes. This VA regulation prevents thousands of Civil War soldiers, who are buried in New York, from being properly honored. To require the permission of a direct descendant of men who died well over one hundred years ago is a nonsensical policy and it must be reversed,” he said.
Jeff Richman, the historian at Green-Wood Cemetery, said putting names on graves would be important tributes to the soldiers of that long-ago war. "So many veterans sacrificed so much in service to this country. The least a thankful nation can do is to mark their unmarked graves,” he said.
Prior to its recent decision, the VA allowed researchers, veterans service organizations, historians and cemeteries to apply for headstones for veterans buried in unmarked graves.
Schumer said the current situation turns into gridlock when living relatives of Civil War veterans are difficult or impossible to find.
He sent a letter to Eric K. Shineski, secretary of Veterans Affairs, and Steve L. Muro, VA under secretary for Memorial Affairs, requesting a modification to the policy.
“Veterans of the Civil War that are lying in unmarked graves can only be delivered from obscurity by the actions of their living relatives. This requires the interest of these individuals in distant ancestors that they never met, and likely have never even heard about,” Schumer wrote.
“In some cases, no descendants exist. When they do exist, difficulty locating descendants of these previously unidentified veterans makes resolution of these cases impossible. It is a dishonor to those who sacrificed so much for our nation. For example, William Peter Strickland, a chaplain who served during the Civil War is in an unmarked grave in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery because of the VA’s extremely restrictive policy,” Schumer wrote.