SALEM – A video titled "America’s Legacy of Ashes" has recently been circulating in the Media. This video falsely represents a number of cremated remains in Oregon that have been identified as veterans. This has generated great concern among Oregon’s veterans and other interested citizens.
The Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs (ODVA), other state agencies, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, and private sector organizations have been proactive in their efforts to ensure remains of veterans are repatriated to the veteran’s family or interred with honor.
"We owe a great debt of gratitude to our veterans. Their cremains should be treated with honor and respect and we are doing everything within our power in Oregon to make sure the cremains of our veterans are returned to their loved ones," Courtney said.
In 1971 the State used the services of private funeral homes to assist in repatriating or interring cremated remains that were unclaimed. Since then, it has been noted that incomplete or missing patient records have complicated this effort. However, in recent years, state hospital staff have been updating and maintaining a database from which researchers can attempt to locate families and assist with determining if the deceased person was a veteran.
Prior to 1971, remains of unclaimed deceased persons from all state-run hospitals, the Fairview Training Center, and the Oregon State Penitentiary were cremated. The State Hospital has an estimated 3,475 cremated remains of people who died between 1914 and 1971.
The 2005 Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 1097, introduced by Courtney, into law removing existing privacy restrictions in order to allow the Department of Human Services to disclose the names, dates of birth and death (if known) of any cremains that were stored at the hospital. During the 2007 session, Courtney introduced Senate Bill 32 to remove any remaining restrictions and give the hospital legal authority to proceed with repatriation of cremains. That bill also passed and mandates that the state create a memorial for those persons whose cremated remains are not claimed.
Through the Missing in America Project, volunteer groups such as Patriot Guard Riders and the American Legion, are trained to assist in identifying any veteran’s cremains that are being held by private Oregon funeral homes.
ODVA Director Jim Willis commented, "It’s unfortunate the number of veteran cremains in Oregon has been misrepresented. Oregonians can be proud of the proactive approach being taken to help ensure unclaimed veterans’ remains are interred with military honors."