EASTHAMPTON — The cremated remains of a city veteran, which have been sitting on a shelf at an area funeral home for three years, will finally be laid to rest after the City Council approved payment of a past funeral bill.
At the time of the veteran’s death, the individual’s family reached out to the city’s former veterans agent and applied for the state’s Chapter 115 Benefits/Safety Net Program, which provides monetary assistance to Massachusetts veterans who are facing financial is rad minister difficulties. the state Department of Veterans Services and provides eligible veterans or their spouses with assistance like daily living expenses, medical costs, rent assistance and burial costs.
In the case that a deceased person’s estate has insufficient resources to pay for the cost of a funeral and burial, the state will cover up to $4,000 for the funeral and burial as long as the cost for both does not exceed $5,000.
However, the family of the deceased Easthampton veteran was erroneously denied payment for the burial benefit, according to South Hadley-Easthampton Veterans Agent Michael Slater. Out of privacy for the family, the veteran’s name was not released.
“The previous director did not follow the steps and actually apply for the benefit, he just told the family they were not eligible,” he said. “When we deny someone a benefit, we’re required to provide them with a notice of action , which explains their appeal. But that never happened.”
While it’s unclear whether the family was ineligible for the benefit at the time, Slater said that because the previous director didn’t follow the required process, the city cannot say the veteran was ineligible. In the meantime, the veteran’s remains have sat on a shelf at a funeral home since 2019.
“For me it’s just making sure that the veteran gets to where he needs to be and can rest in peace where he needs to be,” he said.
After the family reached out to Slater, he contacted the state Department of Veterans Services to find a way to resolve the matter. Typically, when a burial benefit is approved, the city will pay the benefit and the state will provide 75% reimbursement.
Since taking over the district role three years ago, Slater said he handles on average seven burial benefit applications each year.
Although the state approved 75% reimbursement, the bill required City Council approval because it was from a previous year.
The council unanimously approved paying the $4,000 benefit last Wednesday. At-large Councilor Brad Riley and Precinct 1 Councilor James “JP” Kwiecinski also extended heartfelt apologies to the family.
“This should not have happened. I am grateful that we were able to straighten out,” said Kwiecinski. “This is of utmost importance.”
Precinct 3 Councilor Tom Peake, who also serves on the council’s Finance Committee, said that in discussing the matter with Slater, he felt that the issue was more isolated and not systematic, and did not require a deeper audit into the matter.
“When something goes wrong, I always sort of worry that it might have gone wrong a couple times,” said Peake. “If there’s anyone out there who was denied a benefit like this in the past and they feel like it wasn’t fair … reach out. Let us know.”
Emily Thurlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.