Department of Veterans Affairs
Office of Inspector General
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear VA Inspector General,
A fake headstone is one thing, but a fake headstone paid for by the VA is something else, as it is an INSULT to the memory of DOCUMENTED American war veterans.
Your office was contacted about this issue by email and your office’s response was: “We have reviewed your complaint and determined that it does not warrant a formal investigation by the OIG.”
The headstone at issue is near Sigel, Jefferson Co PA, in a private cemetery and it says:
1 NY Militia
War of 1812
Dec 24 1769
Aug 28 1843”
A man told me in 2007 that the government paid for the headstone.
That headstone was based upon the following published headstone information:
“HAIGHT, B., d. 8/29/1848, no age” (pages 133-134, Vol. 1 of Tombstone Hoppin' by Steele, 1980).
“B. Haight - Died August 18, 1848, aged ?? years, 6 months, 11 days” (Nathan Zipfel, historian, Jefferson County Genealogy Project, Barnett Township, Jefferson Co PA).
That headstone did not have the name Benjamin on it. It showed no birth year. It indicated a birth month of February, after doing the math. It is impossible to tell if the headstone was for a man, a woman, a boy or a girl. There were other headstones in or near the cemetery not transcribed and part of the cemetery was covered over by a road. About eight headstones were transcribed.
Descendants have been researching this Benjamin Haight for more than 60 years and here are the conclusions:
a son in the 1880 Federal Census reported that his father was born in CT;
a biography of a grandson published in 1895 said that Benjamin Haight married Phoebe Ruff, that Benjamin’s son Nelson Haight was born in Dutchess Co NY in 1808 and that the family lived in Delaware Co NY before moving to Jefferson Co PA.
The grandson’s biography also said that Benjamin Haight was in the War of 1812, but would that be enough to justify this headstone? Of course not. There were more than a half-dozen Benjamin Haight/Hoyt men in NY at the time, so a Benjamin Haight name on a list would not be enough without some supporting documentation (although I suspect that there was no Benjamin Haight name on a list).
Descendants have found no specific records for Benjamin Haight before 1820, excluding the information in the grandson’s biography. There has been found no record of Benjamin Haight’s birth year. It is probable that Benjamin Haight died in Jefferson Co PA and that he died before 1850, but that has not been proven (although the grandson’s biography did say that Benjamin Haight died in Jefferson Co PA). The 1840 Federal Census showed that Benjamin Haight of Jefferson Co PA was born 1761-1770.
Your agency could do two things, Inspector General:
1) in the future, your agency could publish applications for headstones if the justification is questionable or flimsy and let descendants and researchers have a full year to provide feedback on the application;
2) in this case, the very least your agency could do would be to provide the application for this headstone to be transcribed and published for descendants and researchers to review (minus the applicant’s name and address).
By the way, if your agency wants to cite the Privacy Act in the case of flimsy or questionable documentation, then that would also be an INSULT to the memory of DOCUMENTED American war veterans. There is nothing “secret” about this type of thing.
Documented war veterans paid the price for a free headstone, but putting up a headstone for someone undocumented is an insult to the memory of those veterans.
Wouldn’t you agree, or would you rather have this trend continue?
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