Veteran Laid To Rest as Family Jumps Financial Hurdles

May 29, 2018 07:40 AM

For the last two weeks, a Glencoe family has struggled to find funding to get their father, Air Force veteran Philip J. Cornell, buried.

An 18 year-old Cornell enlisted in the Air Force fresh out of high school in New Jersey in 1958.


He worked as an electrician on C-130 aircraft. And, on Wednesday, he will be laid to rest alongside other men and women who also protected this country at Fort Snelling.

"He talked about some aircraft that came home with more bullet holes than metal left on the plane," said his son Mark Cornell of the stories his father told.

His father, 78, lost his battle with cancer a couple of weeks ago. And the family said the struggle with the disease drained finances.

"It's hard to mourn and (get) closure when you have all that going on," Mark Cornell said. "I haven't even addressed the fact that my father is gone."

The family reached out to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS while trying to navigate the process and discover what resources were available to help with their late father's funeral expenses.

"It's not a guarantee that's it's going to be covered," Mark Cornelll said of learning that VA benefits aren't available right away, are limited depending on the veteran and that the government's system works on a reimbursement basis.

That meant the family would have to pay out-of-pocket for part of the more than $3,000 in fees at a local funeral home before their father was transferred to the National Cemetery at Fort Snelling - where veteran burial services are free.

"We just don't have it, we're working on it," said Mark Cornell to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS last week while the family was raising money on a crowd-funding site.

But the family said they were able to work on a payment plan with the funeral home in order to get their father moved to Fort Snelling.

Meeker County Veterans Services, which assisted the family in the process, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that veteran's families can be eligible for between $300 and $2,000 in burial and funeral assistance.

After the story aired, Dog Tag Furniture a group that helps veterans' families with funeral expenses offered their assistance to cover the cost.

Understanding Veterans Burial Benefits

The U.S Veterans Benefits Administration website states: "VA pays for burial and funeral expenses on a reimbursement basis, which requires survivors to submit receipts for relatively small one-time payments that VA generally pays at the maximum amount permitted by law."

This link allows you to apply online for those benefits, or find out more information as to what is available.

Burial at a VA National Cemetery

Once a veteran arrives at the gates of a National Cemetery, there are no expenses to the family.

Ame Callahan, Executive Director at Fort Snelling National Cemetery, provided the following list of no-cost services offered for a veteran's family by the National Cemetery Association:

  • Opening and closing of the grave
  • Perpetual care of gravesite
  • A government headstone or marker
  • A burial flag
  • A Presidential Memorial Certificate (veteran only)

State Veterans Cemeteries

Minnesota's Department of Veterans Affairs offers burial services to all veterans discharged from active military service under conditions other than dishonorable at the state's veterans cemeteries in Little Falls, Preston and later this fall in Duluth.  T

The no-cost service provides:

  • Grave site or Columbarium Niche
  • Pre-placed Grave liner (Standard Size)
  • Headstone/Niche Cover
  • Perpetual Care

Minnesota's County Veterans Services Offices

County Veterans Services Officers in Minnesota can assist families with the benefits process, applying for services and discussing other avenues including cremation, burial, and funeral assistance programs. Every county in Minnesota has a fund to assist those individuals who do not have funding to bury a loved one. 

This link will help find the CVSO in your area.


Eric Chaloux

Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


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