(NEW YORK) — The mother-in-law of an Iraq war veteran is pleading for change in North Carolina after her daughter’s late husband was denied burial in a state cemetery.
Capt. James Christian Gallagher, a third-generation member of the United States armed forces, described by his family as having love for his country that “never wavered,” is being held in a morgue, waiting to be interred.
“How can the state of North Carolina turn their back on this. The rejection of allowing CPT Gallagher to be buried in North Carolina State Veterans cemetery,” Gallagher’s mother-in-law Wendy Lacey wrote on Facebook.
The post, shared more than 100 times on Facebook, condemns North Carolina for its “unconscionable” decision.
Gallagher, a 2008 West Point graduate, was stationed in Fort Lee, Virginia, with his wife and three daughters, when two weeks ago he suddenly passed away at the age of 31.
Amanda, Gallagher’s wife, decided to move to North Carolina, to be near her family in a time of need.
“When my daughter decided that she needed help, it was the right fit to have her husband buried here,” Lacey told ABC News.
Initially, Amanda was told her husband could be buried at the North Carolina state veterans, Sandhill Cemetery, but the funeral home denied the family a plot, citing ineligibility.
A free burial plot is provided at a North Carolina State Veterans Cemetery for state veterans; however, they must meet certain residency requirements. Among those requirements is that the veteran has at the time of death been a legal resident of North Carolina for at least 10 years, according to the North Carolina State Veterans Cemetery Program.
“We asked for an exception; we called Larry Hall, the [North Carolina] secretary of veterans affairs, and put in the proper paperwork,” Wendy told ABC News; however, Hall said they could not make the exception.
Hall’s office confirmed to ABC News that Gallagher did not meet the residency requirements under state law, but said the state worked to present the family with other options at nearby federal veterans’ cemeteries in Salisbury, North Carolina, and Florence, South Carolina.
“While this was an unusual situation, it is clear that the [state] Department of Military and Veterans Affairs should continue to work with legislators to review these policies and ensure that they serve the needs North Carolina’s veterans and military families,” Hall’s office told ABC News in a statement.
The family also reached out to Gov. Roy Cooper. The governor’s office told ABC News it could not make the exception, but offered to help the family pursue the statute change.
“Gov. Cooper believes legislators should review these requirements to consider allowing North Carolina families eligibility for loved ones who have served our nation,” Ford Porter, a spokesperson for Cooper, told ABC News. “Veterans, service members who have lost their lives and their families should always be welcome to come home to North Carolina.”
The federal Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration maintains 135 national cemeteries in 39 states, and many states have also established state veteran cemeteries that may include residency requirements.
“My big hope is that no widow with small children or otherwise will ever have to go through this again. That when they go to their funeral director, their spouse is buried close to their family where they can get the support they need and while they go through the grieving process,” Lacey said, adding, “I feel like the country might just owe us a decent burial.”
Lacey said her son-in-law is currently in a morgue waiting to be interred once a spot becomes available at Arlington National Cemetery, where he is eligible to be buried.
“At this point, [Amanda] would like her husband to rest in peace, so she is moving forward with Arlington, because she can’t handle the process,” Lacey said. “She doesn’t have the strength to fight it, or keep living.”
As for her grandchildren: “They’re devastated they won’t be able to see their dad on Father’s Day.”
Nonetheless, Lacey remains hopeful the law will change and her family’s sacrifice will serve a greater purpose.
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