ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - It took two weeks and nearly $500 before the Veterans of ForeignWars could get Bernalillo County to give up the remains of anindigent war vet so he could receive a military funeral.
And while county officials said they were only complying withthe law, VFW members are steamed over what it took to retrieve theashes World War Two veteran John Lott.
“I've never met the man,” VFW spokesman Fred Ortizsaid. "I never met Mr. Lott."
Neither did other VFW members who only learned of Lott when hiscaretaker called about a funeral.
“He deserved to be buried under honorableconditions,” Ortiz said.
Although Ortiz did not know Lott, his ashes sit on a cabinet inOrtiz's office waiting for the military funeral at 1 p.m. Friday atthe Santa Fe National Cemetery.
Getting to this point, however, hasn’t been easy. Lottdied last month at the Veterans Administration hospital inAlbuquerque.
“He had died without leaving any funds to bury himself,"Ortiz said. "He had no family here locally."
So the county took responsibility for the veteran and had himcremated.
After Lott's caretaker called Ortiz began planning the funeral.But when he called the county to get Lott's remains, the nonprofitgroup was slapped with the cremation bill.
“You have to pay $485," Ortiz said. "I said, 'Can youdiscount this for us?' and I explained to them who I was and what Iwas doing."
Ortiz said the county told him it could not release the remainsuntil the fee was paid even though Ortiz had informed them thatLott was a war veteran.
“The law is real clear that we are responsible, and theindividual must pay if they decide to claim them later,”Bernalillo County Manager Thaddeus Lucero told KRQE News 13.
It took the VFW two weeks to come up with the money. If the VFWhad not claimed Lott’s remains, after two years he would havebeen buried at an Albuquerque cemetery with other unclaimedpeople.
The war veteran would not have been given a head stone ormilitary services.
“I'm upset because he is a veteran,” Ortiz said,“He deserves to be buried properly.”
After News 13 brought the issue to county officials, they saidthey feel the same way as Ortiz.
“They are veterans, and they need to have a properburial," Lucero said. "It's something that we weren't awareof."
The county said it plans to start working with the state to makeit possible for indigent veterans get an appropriate militaryfuneral.
Lott retired from the Air Force after serving 25 years in themilitary.
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