For years the owner of a Queens funeral home has performed services for veterans who couldn't afford it. Recently, he hit a roadblock in getting reimbursed, until a local politician stepped in. NY1's Angi Gonzalez filed the following report.
As the owner of Hess-Miller Funeral Home in Middle Village, Anthony Martino has arranged thousands of funerals.
“When people say what do you do? [I say], we help people,” explained Martino.
In the last 8 years Martino has “helped” more than 150 veterans who either have no way to pay for funeral services or no family.
“He makes it easy for us. He provides the hearse, he provides the casket,” said Michael O’Kane, the President of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter in Queens.
It's a task Martino does for free, with the promise of a contribution from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
It’s also something he felt compelled to take on as his own father is a World War II Veteran.
“I said Anthony I don’t care whatever the cost is, no solider is to be left behind,” said Joseph J. Martino, Anthony's father.
Martino isn’t doing it for the money. A typical funeral for a veteran will cost him a little more than $1,300, the V.A. only reimburses him less than half that.
In the last year the process to get reimbursed changed and after submitting 21 requests to the V.A., Martino realized he was getting nowhere.
“We would send the claim into the VA, the VA would deny my claim several months later, I would initiate an appeal. After I performed all of these services the claims went into dead space,” explained Martino.
So Martino reached out to Congresswoman Grace Meng's Office.
"When he contacted our office about the backlog and the lack of response that he was getting from the VA that's when we stepped in and tried to help him," Meng said.
Martino heard back from the V.A. in just two weeks.
“One day the mailman delivered me 21 approval letters,” he said. “Three days later, 21 checks came in the mail.”
A spokesperson from the VA said the National Cemetery Administration processed all of Martino's claims and paid them out within 2 weeks.
They add that the issue may have been with the Veterans Benefits Administration and they are "looking in to the matter" and have reached out to the funeral home to see how we may improve our process."
Something Martino will be happy to do.
“We need some sort of a better system some sort of a follow up system,” said Martino.