Waiver paves way for burial of homeless veteran at Chattanooga National Cemetery
Official record shows Melissa Gail Miner was a 51-year-old U.S. Navy veteran who died in July and left no family behind.
But Renee Chisholm said she attended Miner’s funeral at Chattanooga National Cemetery on Wednesday because she considered her veteran colleague a “sister” – even though they never met.
“To me, when you’re in the military, everyone is your family,” Chisholm said, adding that she had served in Germany with the US military almost 50 years ago.
“My faith and belief is that she knows that I am here and that I love her,” Chisholm said. “I just wish I could have known her.”
Homeless veteran buried at Chattanooga National Cemetery
Miner was homeless at the time of her death, and Sam Wolfe, director of the City of Chattanooga’s Office of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, said he had come to know her in recent years.
“Just a nice lady,” said Wolfe, who worked for the city in a similar capacity under former mayor Andy Berke. “She was pretty secretive, but she shared enough for you to know that she was struggling with issues that haunted her.
“She looked after others on the streets,” Wolfe said, “to the point that she often gave up on her own needs and looked after theirs.”
After Miner’s death, Wolfe contacted retired Navy Captain Mickey McCamish, director of the Southeast Tennessee Veterans Coalition, to help organize his burial at the National Cemetery. McCamish said the original application was denied because Miner had only served on active duty for 22 months, two months less than the minimum required to be buried in a national cemetery.
McCamish said he then made it his mission to obtain a waiver from the US Department of Veterans Affairs. After more than two months of working with staff in the office of US Senator Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., The waiver finally arrived in late September.
“I just didn’t want to leave Missy behind,” said McCamish, who spoke at Miner’s funeral. “It was worth my time and effort to secure this waiver to be buried with honor in our national cemetery.”
On its website, the National Coalition of Homeless Veterans cites an estimate from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development that more than 40,000 veterans are homeless every night. The coalition further notes that while veterans make up 7 percent of the U.S. population, they make up nearly 13 percent of the nation’s homeless adult population.
One of the reasons for homelessness among veterans is that “military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce,” according to the coalition.
McCamish said the veterans need to make a big adjustment.
“Even as a very junior person, you have high levels of responsibility in the military,” he said, “and a certain level of respect goes with that responsibility.
“Then, in the civilian world, it goes. Job offers, responsibilities don’t match. Veterans are sometimes not ready to accept a lower level of responsibility. It can almost sound like failure, and it can set off a downward spiral that some veterans never back down, ”said McCamish.
One of the factors influencing all homeless people, and not just homelessness among veterans, is an “extreme shortage” of affordable housing, the coalition says. Wendy Winters, executive director of the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition, said a lack of affordable housing has forced her agency to find creative ways to use resources.
“We used to put a person in a single bed or a studio,” she said. “Now we’re looking at four people in a four-bedroom apartment, a shared apartment situation. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than sleeping on the street.
“And if you get a Section 8 voucher,” Winters said, referring to the federal government’s subsidized housing program with its long waits, “you might as well set it on fire.”
Contact Bob Gary at [email protected]
– 13 percent of the homeless adult population in the United States are veterans.
– 20 percent of the homeless male population are veterans.
– 68 percent reside in the downtown area of a metropolitan area.
– 32 percent reside in suburban / rural areas.
– 51 percent of homeless veterans have a disability.
– 50 percent have serious mental illness.
– 70 percent have substance abuse problems.
– 51 percent are white males, compared to 38 percent of non-veterans.
– 50 percent are 51 or older, compared to 19 percent of non-veterans.
Source: National Coalition for Homeless Veterans