Indigent veterans, families to get more help with final expenses - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Indigent veterans, families to get more help with final expenses

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CEDAR FALLS (KWWL) -

On this Memorial Day weekend, we remember those we've lost, including soldiers who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

But laying our veterans and their families to rest comes with a hefty price tag, both emotionally and financially. And there's a local assistance program that's now getting more money to help those who've given so much for us.

Jeff Shirley served in the US Army during the Vietnam War. He remembers how hard it was back then to be a veteran.

"We didn't have a fanfare like they do now when the troops come back," Shirley said.

It got easier with time.  And with recent wars, Shirley feels Americans have become more patriotic.

But long after his military service, Shirley faced new battles.  He became disabled, and so did his wife, Kathy.  In January, after an eight year battle with lung and brain cancer, she died.

"With the price of healthcare and the price of funerals nowadays, it's really easy to drain your savings and everything you thought you'd prepared for kind of goes by the wayside," said Shirley.

While Shirley knew at death he would be eligible for veteran benefits, he didn't know the Veterans Affairs Department in Black Hawk County could offer help for his wife, too.  In fact, the VA stepped in to help cover his wife's funeral and burial costs

"It took a tremendous burden off of me and my family at a time when we were all wondering, 'How are we going to pay all these bills, and how are we going to do this right?'" Shirley said.

The VA says the burial assistance program is an important tool to help thank veterans like Jeff Shirley for all they've done for us.  That program's now getting more help, as the county board of supervisors have opted to increase funding by up to $1300 per family, helping offset rising funeral costs.

"It's very humane to do this in a very professional manner, satisfactory manner, to give a good tribute to that veteran or veteran's spouse or family member if that happens.  I think we should do even more, not wait until a solemn occasion like this to want to show our gratitude to the veteran," said Bennie Spain, executive director of Black Hawk County Veterans Affairs.

After 35 years of marriage, Shirley misses his wife daily.  But he's grateful she can rest in peace, with her family not buried by debt, thanks to the support of Veterans Affairs.

The county board of supervisors budgets $15,000 each year to help pay for about a dozen indigent veteran funerals, burials and cremations.  Local funeral homes work with Veterans Affairs to provide assistance to those who meet financial need qualifications.

To learn more about the  program, you can call the Black Hawk County VA at (319) 291-2512 or click here.

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