I-Team: Veterans' families can't bury their dead

GOLDSBORO, NC (WTVD) -- Their loved ones served our country in war zones. They devoted their lives to serving a cause greater than themselves. In death, their families were expecting a proper military burial. Instead, they are left wondering how long it'll take until they can bury their loved ones.

The flag-draped coffin of a veteran waits for burial.

Inside a funeral home in Goldsboro lies the flag-draped casket of Sergeant John Robert Bergeron. His burial is in limbo.

"It's a slap in the face not only to the veterans but to the families of the veterans," Dave Parker, a Vietnam veteran, said in anguish.

Sergeant Bergeron's family is the victim of government bureaucracy as they wait to bury their World War II veteran.

John Robert Bergeron

"Veterans are already accustomed to standing in line, but to have to stand in line to be buried is a little bit much," Rick Mondell, a local pastor, offered.

At another funeral home down the block, nine urns are sitting with ashes waiting to be taken to their final resting place.

"It's just unfair. It's just wrong," said Sandi Lugo, a veteran's daughter.

Lugo's father, Air Force tech Sergeant Gail Johnson died last month.

"He served in the Army for 13 years," she explained. "He served in the Air Force for 11 years. He did several tours in Vietnam, and in Korea, he was a combat vet."

"He wanted his final resting place to be the new veteran's cemetery in Goldsboro, close to home," she continued.

But weeks have gone by and she still can't bury him.

"We don't have closure for our family. We don't know when we are going to bury my dad," she said.

Gail Johnson

In November, the state dedicated the 60-acre Eastern Carolina State Veteran's Cemetery. Governor McCrory presided at the ceremony.

But three months later, the cemetery is still not open.

"A system should have been in place at the time of dedication to ensure that burials would take place at a proper time," veteran Bill Graham said.

Governor Pat McCrory attended the dedication.

Angry families contacted the I-Team because they're locked out of burying their loved ones.

"I have a friend that I used to work with and passed away," said Dave Parker. "He's basically sitting in a funeral home cremated on a shelf waiting to be placed here at the cemetery, and his family is still waiting for closure and doesn't have closure so it's not right."

Urns wait to be interred.

"I feel very badly about this," offered Ilario Pantano, the state director of Veterans Affairs.

"I'm a veteran of two wars. I understand that veterans' families are in distress and that hurts my heart, so what I would say to these veterans is "I'm sorry" that this delay has occurred. This pains me."

Pantano told the I-Team the cemetery opening has been delayed because legislators didn't pass the state budget on time leaving no money to hire workers to operate it.

"I'm deeply frustrated," Pantano said. "I don't like bureaucratic incompetence. I don't stand for it."

After the I-Team started asking questions, Pantano assured us money has now been found to operate the new cemetery.

"We're still about one month to six weeks away from it from going fully operational," he pointed out.

Until then, local funeral homes will continue storing urns and caskets and families will continue suffering.

"Just as you are getting over things and things are going to be okay then that will be about the time they open the cemetery and we have to bury him," Sandi Lugo explained. "It's going to be just like going back through and starting the grieving process again and that's hard. It's an emotional roller coaster. It's what it is going to be."

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