Thursday, June 22, 2006



Forbes is reporting that the US Department of Veterans Affairs has made some thorough plans for how they will deal with the bodies of dead veterans during a bird flu pandemic.

In short, the hundred-plus military cemetaries across the US are expected to suffer from the same kinds of staff shortages as any other public, or private, organisation during a pandemic.

Staff will be home sick, mortuary workers will be over-run and there will simply not be time or manpower to give every veteran who dies of bird flu the standard kind of respectful funeral and grave site they would normally get.
The VA buries more than 250 veterans and eligible family members a day - about 93,000 a year.

Those burials could stop or be put on hold during a pandemic, presumably even as the tally of dead surges, according to a VA plan that lays out how it will cope with an influenza outbreak.

The government is preparing for a worst-case scenario of nearly 2 million deaths in the United States in a pandemic.

As for the dead, the VA said it may have to store bodies in refrigerated warehouses or trucks outfitted as temporary morgues.

As much as 40 percent of the national work force could be off the job in a pandemic, according to federal estimates.

During the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, the dead were sometimes buried in trenches, Fells said. Should another pandemic strike, it could take days to bury the dead, and perhaps only then in mass or temporary graves, he added.

"Will that be necessary? It may be and we have to be prepared if things get that bad," Fells said.

"If there's truly a catastrophic kind of thing - whether it be a bird flu pandemic or a massive, terrorist-instigated attack that would claim tens or hundreds of thousands of lives - a lot of that frankly involves bulldozers," said Mike Duggan, the American Legion's deputy director for national security and a Vietnam veteran.

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