GREENPORT—The Columbia County Veteran’s Service Department has continued to provide services for and keep in touch with veterans throughout the Covid crisis, Gary Flaherty, its executive director, reported by phone October 20.
Mr. Flaherty keeps lists of hundreds of veterans and survivors of veterans in Columbia County, plus about a dozen in Greene and Dutchess counties. These individuals, he said, have sought or received help for psychological issues, usually Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Mr. Flaherty said he called everyone on the list since the crisis began. He makes several calls a week and calls some multiple times as needed.
In addition, the Veterans Services Agency office on Fairview Avenue in Greenport, which also has recreational facilities, has stayed open throughout the crisis, Mr. Flaherty reported. He said to date no veterans on his list or any of their family members have had the coronavirus.
Mr. Flaherty said that this year there have been four deaths (from any cause) of veterans whose survivors could not pay the burial or cremation costs on their own. This number is higher than what it usually is by October.
This fall the Columbia County Board of Supervisors appointed Mr. Flaherty Veteran Indigent Burial Designee for the County of Columbia. He had already created a county fund to pay for the burials of veterans whose survivors prove that they cannot afford to do so. In fact, if the county government finds out about the burial of a veteran that has already happened, it will reimburse the family, if it financially qualifies. Appointing a burial designee allows the county to take advantage of a state law that calls for the state to reimburse the county for what it has paid for burying indigent veterans, up to $2,000 per funeral.
The burial designee helps “arrange and/or pay for .… burials and headstones” of indigent veterans and is “responsible for compiling an annual report to the Board of Supervisors,” according to the county resolution creating the task. Some of this Mr. Flaherty has been already doing in some form.
For burial decisions, the wishes of the deceased veterans and their families are respected if possible. But if the veteran left no instructions and has no known family, “We follow the guidance of the funeral directors,” said Mr. Flaherty. He added that he has found funeral directors very helpful and cooperative.
He recalled that a veteran in Germantown died after having expressed a wish to be buried in a certain cemetery. But he did not have enough money to buy a plot there. So the funeral director bought the plot.
Mr. Flaherty attends funerals in his Command Sgt. Maj. uniform, if the family wants him to. If they want, he is also the person who gives the flag to the widow.