The body of a homeless 48-year-old Desert Storm veteran remained at the Cook County medical examiner's office Monday as his family in Florida struggled to bring him home. But when the Cook County commissioner and a nonprofit aiming to help veterans and their families teamed up, the man's remains will now be heading back to his family.
Nelson Rodriguez's widow, who lives in Jacksonville, Florida, reached out to "America's Heroes Group," a nonprofit which in turn reached out to Cook County Board Commissioner Richard Boykin.
“The VA has not always done the job that we would like them to do for these people,” said Cliff Kelley, who works for the nonprofit. "This is a situation we hope doesn't have to happen again."
Rodriguez's widow explained the family couldn't afford a funeral or cremation.
Boykin said it's not right for the body of a veteran to sit in a bureaucratic limbo.
“Veterans who die homeless, or without next of kin that people can’t locate--that they’re bodies don’t just sit around, that’s disrespectful,” he said.
So Boykin coordinated with the medical examiner’s office. Together they were able to cremate Rodriguez’s body at no cost to the family.
The action spurring Boykin to make veterans a priority.
"We have too many homeless veterans in Cook County, Illinois and throughout the country," he said. "These individuals have served our nation and served our nation well.”
The commissioner’s office will work with veterans groups and funeral homes. Their goal is to ensure homeless vets are buried with dignity and respect.
“I think we have to be more of a compassionate county for our veterans," Boykin said. "I think we have to do more to prioritize.”
Boykin will personally escort Rodriguez's remains to Florida, he said.