RI Demands Veterans’ Info from Volunteers Before Giving Cemetery Flags

Monday, May 08, 2017


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The state is requiring more information in the coming year before releasing Memorial Day flags.

The Rhode Island Office of Veterans Affairs is requiring that volunteers and veterans organizations provide information about each deceased veteran in return for cemetery flags in the coming year, which the state says is to collect data and prevent fraud — and at least one volunteer is calling “overkill.”

Ken Postle, who is the Cemetery Recovery Coordinator for the Blackstone Valley Historical Society is questioning why the state won’t use findagrave.com — which is run by ancestry.com — as a basis for its database, and raised a number of logistical concerns with Memorial Day approaching. 

“So they’re duplicating efforts. This database already exists,” said Postle, of findagrave.com and the Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Commission. “There’s a picture of every single known tombstone, never mind veterans. All the senior citizens, who play 'cemetery Sudoku,’ they takes pictures and post. In our recovery work alone, I’ve raised 3,000 stones under the ground, and we get the best possible picture.”

The Department however made the case for why they are requiring the information. 

“We have no database of our veterans. We have no way of ensuring every veteran's grave is flagged for Memorial Day. We have no way of ensuring that over $120,000 of taxpayer money is being used as intended,” said Cara Condit with the Office of Veterans Affairs. “When I receive reports of the misuse of state property, I have no documentation or way to hold people accountable.”

Postle said he does not agree with the state's rationale. 

“They refuse to acknowledge to findagrave.com, because its volunteer driven — and now they’ve asking for volunteers? I’ve got school kids who do this volunteer work, and I can’t put their names on the forms because they’re not 18,” said Postle of the state. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

Requiring Info from Volunteers

Condit explained the information that the state is looking to collect. 

“At least the veteran's name and the cemetery,” said Condit. “I would love to get as many details as possible and especially the branch and war period.  I think it's important for the state to maintain a list of the veterans resting here in Rhode Island. "

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Photo: CreativeCommons/Jessica

"However, I understand that is often not feasible due to resources and the degradation of some of the stones. We have additional volunteers available to help as needed," Condit added. "A notation that there is a veteran in a specific cemetery, even if the name is unreadable, helps me to better ensure those veterans' graves are remembered.”

Postle noted that the data collection in addition to removing and replacing flags, would be an arduous task. 

“If you’ve ever flagged, you’ve got [the flags] under your arms, you’re removing [the old ones] and the whole time you’re trying not to drop the flags,” said Postle. “So now volunteers are expected to be carrying a clipboard on top of that? And what about in inclement weather? There’s 3,000 [graves] at Notre Dame [Cemetery] and at St. Francis we’ve got 1,000. Some places it might be do-able, but some of these places are huge.  And again - this information already exists!”

Postle noted that it was last week, when he was given the paperwork, that he began raising questions. 

“I went down [to Exeter], because I’m getting the flags for a lot of a groups that can’t get down there. I was told I had to go to a particular veteran and get all this information,” said Postle. “So now I’m going to go to an 80 year old veteran, and ask for all of this?  I get it, maybe seven or eight groups can cover the same cemetery, but you just can’t call them and figure out who’ll do it?” 

Postle said that town DPWs used to handle the cemetery flags, but due to budget cutbacks, that it’s no longer possible most places. 

Impact on Veterans

“I heard from someone at one Legion that no one’s going to want to do this.  So that group will drop — and you need to get flags through a military group.  They’re going to be eliminating aging-out groups,” said Postle.  

“And I’ve heard from veterans who don’t want to speak out on this, as many know they’ll be dependent on the state one day," added Postle. "They’re fearful to say anything.  They were the bravest of the brave, and this is what’s in the back of their heads? This is how we’re going to treat our veterans?”

Condit noted that the data collection would take years. 

“This is a big initiative and it will likely take me 5 years to develop a good reference. To do it, I will need a lot of help. It is the selfless people and organizations who know these cemeteries because they legitimately place flags on the stones to memorialize our veterans,” said Condit. “They are in the best position to help me capture this information.”

SLIDES: Five Big Issues Heating Up at the General Assembly


Related Slideshow: Five Big Issues Heating Up at the General Assembly

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Battle #1

Providence Water Supply Board Sale

Going back to Buddy Cianci in the early 1990s, Providence Mayors have wanted to sell off the Providence Water Supply Board and cash in.

Now, with the City of Providence facing both short-term and long-term financial issues, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is seeking legislative approval to sell the State’s leading water supply.

But, mismanagement of the timeline of preparation by the city has now jeopardized the initiative.

On Tuesday, Speaker Nick Mattiello told GoLocalProv, “This legislation is not in the best interests of ratepayers.  It does not have my support.”

Battle over.  And with 2018 being an election year, the hurdle's even steeper. 

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Battle #2

Car Tax Reduction

The battle over the car tax has pitted Speaker Mattiello against Governor Gina Raimondo.

Last week, Raimondo released her own ad which criticized the Speaker's plan. He is calling for a complete elimination of the car tax while Raimondo seeks only a 30 percent reduction.

“I am committed to giving taxpayers immediate relief in next year’s budget from the oppressive and regressive car tax.  My plan is coming together as the fiscal staff is working with the Department of Revenue and getting input from the League of Cities and Towns.  It is a very technical issue and we have found that certain practices differ widely among communities.  When the plans are finalized, specifics will be released and the House Finance Committee will hold a hearing,” Mattiello told GoLocal.

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Battle #3

Marijuana Legalization Battle

It's not just those who are for and against -- there seem to be more opinions than there are decision-makers.

“I think it's still too early to pass any kind of legalization of marijuana in Rhode Island. We need to gather more data, and if and when it comes, we do it the right way. The data is still coming in from those states who have legalized it,” House Minority Leader Patricia told GoLocal. “They've realized a lot of revenue, but they've taken on a lot of costs -- prevention, DUIs, underweight babies. If we do it, we want to do it right. It's a false argument to say we need to do it now [or] we'll lose out. As soon as we do it we'll realized our market share. I think we should wait and maker sure.”

While Morgan opposes legalization, Governor Gina Raimondo has sent mixed messages on legalization. Recently, a number of her cabinet members voiced opposition to legalization, but her comments have been across the board.

Even Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, who has sponsored legalization legislation, now raises concerns. On Tuesday, he told GoLocal, “While I co-sponsored the marijuana legalization legislation because I support a strong regulatory framework, I still have concerns on numerous issues related to legalization, including the federal government’s position, potential impact on children’s development, potency, and edibles. I am inclined to support a commission that will more closely examine the experience of other states before we proceed.”

Speaker Mattiello continues to hold his cards close, telling GoLocal, “This is an issue that is being studied and I will meet with my leadership team and my colleagues in the House as we approach the final weeks of the session.”

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Battle #4

Taxpayer Subsidies for PawSox Stadium

The ownership group of the PawSox have a collective net worth in the billions, but they continue to press for significant state subsidies - rumored to be upwards of $75 million.

“No proposals regarding the PawSox or the Superman building are presently before the legislature. Any proposal that comes before us will receive a full and public vetting, whether that is during the session or during the off-session,” said Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. “We will undertake a transparent process, which will include hearings and taking public testimony. Both the PawSox and the Superman building are iconic in Rhode Island. I am hopeful that we might find ways to keep the team in Pawtucket in a manner that ensures the team, city and state all flourish, and to support redevelopment of the Superman building to both restore the structure and create jobs for Rhode Islanders.”

Governor Gina Raimondo met last month with PawSox President Larry Lucchino and Providence Equity Partner’s Paul Salem. 

House Minority Leader Morgan strongly opposes funding for a PawSox stadium - or Superman development. “Neither of these proposals should happen -- I don't know how my colleagues would vote on either of them [if they come before us] but is the wrong path for the state to travel. If those private owners want to use their own money, fine. But not ours.”

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Battle #5

Free College Tuition

The battle between Governor Raimondo and Speaker Mattiello is not limited to the car tax. The other issue which has created tension between the two Democrats is Raimondo’s proposed college funding program.

In the past month, a spinoff of the Democratic Governors Association began running ads promoting the Raimondo plan. 

Last week, former close Raimondo ally and now-House Democratic Majority Leader Joe Shekarchi said on ABC6’s “In the Arena” that there may not be the funding available for Raimondo’s request.

But, the nail in the coffin was uttered Tuesday by Mattiello. He told GoLocal, ”It is being studied on its merits. I am not sure that it is a solution to the problems that exist.”


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