Thirteen happy and formerly homeless Veterans were the center of attention at a graduation ceremony for the 2013 Homeless Veterans Apprenticeship Program class Nov. 15 in Washington, D.C. The graduates had just completed a yearlong training program to learn skills necessary to become cemetery caretakers at VA national cemeteries. They will now hold full-time caretaker positions at national cemeteries in Mountain Home, Tenn.; Puerto Rico; Black Hills, S.D.; Bay Pines, Fla.; and Fort Bliss, Texas.
Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Steve L. Muro offered remarks to the graduates. "Today's ceremony is about choices," he said. "We're here today because each of you chose to seize the opportunity that was offered to you-and you chose to see this commitment through."
The National Cemetery Administration launched the Homeless Veterans Apprenticeship Program in 2012 as a way to support Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki's initiative to end Veterans' homelessness by 2015. During the past year, the candidates participated in both classroom and on-the-job training. According to participants, the opportunity to serve their fellow Veterans and families in their hour of need has been the highlight of their experience and a great honor. Now that they have completed the program, they can elect to remain at their training cemetery, compete for positions at other federal facilities or take their skills to the private sector.
The 2014 Homeless Veterans Apprenticeship Program class has already begun with 24 new participants.
Once again, thousands of volunteers will place remembrance wreaths on Veterans’ graves at VA national cemeteries as part of Wreaths Across America. Most of the ceremonies will take place on Saturday, Dec. 14.
The Civil Air Patrol organizes the wreath-laying ceremonies with assistance from local citizens and Veterans service organizations. All 131 VA national cemeteries receive at least seven wreaths, one for each service branch, one for the Merchant Marines and one for Prisoners of War and those Missing In Action (POW/MIA).
This is the eighth year of Wreaths Across America, a nationwide program which distributes holiday wreaths as a tribute to Veterans laid to rest at VA national cemeteries and state Veterans cemeteries. It is also the 22nd year that the Worcester Wreath Company of Harrington, Maine, will donate wreaths to Arlington National Cemetery. Through this program, company president Morrill Worcester seeks to recognize Veterans, active duty military and their families. His goal is to remind the public to remember the Veterans, honor their service, and teach children the value of freedom.
On July 17, 151 years ago, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Omnibus Act of 1862, which states: "...the President of the United States shall have power, whenever in his opinion it shall be expedient, to purchase cemetery grounds, and cause them to be securely enclosed, to be used as a national cemetery for the soldiers who shall die in the service of the country."
The VA National Cemetery Administration (NCA) traces its roots to this historic legislation. Before this time, soldiers were typically buried where they fell in battle. With the enactment of this law, those who died defending the Union could now receive burial in newly designated national cemeteries as recognition for their sacrifice.
NCA continues to be the keeper of a sacred trust, providing burial in our national shrines for eligible individuals. VA national cemeteries, along with those of the National Park Service, the American Battle Monuments Commission and the U.S. Army, provide a historical record of sacrifice for future generations, and offer a place for reflection.
From Lincoln's time to today, our nation has seen fit to honor those Americans who willingly gave their all. NCA carries out the mission of the VA to fulfill President Lincoln's promise "To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan" by serving and honoring the men and women who are America's Veterans and servicemembers.
NCA created a webpage to enable funeral directors to quickly find the most pertinent information to help families plan burials and apply for VA memorial benefits. It provides information about eligibility, benefits and services, VA forms, and features four videos on casket and cremain services offered with and without military funeral honors. The videos are narrated in English and Spanish and show what a family can expect on the day of their loved-one's funeral at a VA national cemetery.
There are also quick links to download VA forms for ordering headstones and markers, the bronze medallion, the Presidential Memorial Certificate, and other benefits.