Massachusetts mom keeps up fight for right to be buried with soldier son

By Associated Press
Wednesday, January 6, 2010; A13

Denise Anderson lost her only son in the Iraq war. She's determined not to lose her fight to be buried with him in a national veterans cemetery.

Army Spec. Corey Shea died Nov. 12, 2008, in Mosul, with about a month left on his tour of duty in Iraq. He was buried at the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne, about 50 miles from his home town of Mansfield, Mass.

Anderson, 42, soon hit an obstacle in her quest to be buried in the same plot as her son: Only spouses or children of dead veterans may be so interred. Corey Shea was 21, single and childless.

The Department of Veterans Affairs grants waivers and has approved four similar requests from dead soldiers' parents since 2005.

Anderson sought a waiver, too. But under the VA policy, she has to die first to get one, a limbo that Anderson finds tough to live with.

"It was the most devastating blow that I could ever get," Anderson said. "I just miss him so much. Just being with him will give me some sort of peace."

"Every day I wake up, and I look at his pictures and I cry," she said. "It doesn't get any easier. Maybe down the road I will be able to deal with it a little bit better, but right now it's not easy."

VA spokeswoman Laurie Tranter said Anderson's waiver request was not granted because it was made "in advance of her time of need, which is VA's policy for all such waiver requests." Tranter noted, however, that just in case, Corey Shea's remains "were placed at a sufficient depth to accommodate her [Anderson's] future burial."

Anderson doesn't understand why her request can't be granted now. She is challenging the policy with support from her congressman, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), and Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).

"The disproportion between what this country owes her and what she is asking is just as large as can be," Frank said.

The two lawmakers are pushing the Corey Shea Act, a bill that would allow burial privileges for parents of veterans buried in any of the 130 cemeteries run by VA's National Cemetery Administration. The legislation does not apply to burials at Arlington National Cemetery, which is maintained by the Army.

Under the bill, parents would be allowed burial space if their deceased veteran sons and daughters had no living spouses or minor children, and if there is available space at the grave site. The veteran in question also must have been killed in battle or in preparation for battle.

Frank's measure passed the House as part of a broader bill. Kerry is optimistic about the measure's prospects in the Senate.

"No mothers or fathers of a fallen soldier should have to worry about their child being buried alone," Kerry said. "I think Corey Shea would be unbelievably proud of his mother for her determined efforts to honor his memory and ease the burden for other parents."

The response from veterans advocacy groups has been mixed.

Ruth Stonesifer, national president of American Gold Star Mothers, said most members support the bill. She said she has heard of about a dozen parents who want to be buried with their children in national cemeteries.

AMVETS, however, said the measure sets a bad precedent.

"Certainly we empathize with our Gold Star families," said AMVETS spokesman Jay Agg. "In this particular case, we really have to fall on the side on protecting the integrity of the veterans benefits system. . . . The benefits are for service members and their eligible dependents."

Groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion and the National Military Family Association said they have taken no position on the measure.

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