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FL Veterans Decry Southerland's Failure to Bury Service Member With Honor, Votes Against Veterans

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Southerland's company failed to properly bury a veteran, leaving his body exposed at the gravesite for three days  

TALLAHASSEE, FL — Today, Florida veterans gathered for a news-conference where they decried Congressman Steve Southerland's disrespectful failure to bury a service member with honor and Southerland's repeated votes against America's veterans. In 2004, Southerland's funeral home failed to properly bury Thomas S. Gaff, a veteran of the U.S. Army, because Southerland's company refused to remove a tree stump from the grave site.   

According to court documents, immediately following the funeral service Southerland's company informed the Gaff family that it would be impossible to bury Thomas Gaff due to a tree stump that was located in the grave. The family later discovered that Southerland's company had known about the stump prior to the funeral. The Gaff family returned for three consecutive days and attempted to bury the fallen veteran — and even attempted to remove the stump themselves --  but each time was informed by Southerland's company that the burial could not proceed. During these events, Thomas Gaff's casket was left exposed to the elements, and at one point Mr. Gaff's grandson asked Congressman Southerland's company to not leave his “pa pa” in the hot sun. News-footage of the original incident is available online, here.   

In Congress, Representative Southerland has also repeatedly voted against America's veterans and service members:  including voting against housing assistance for veterans, against funding the Department of Veterans Affairs and to make it more difficult for veterans to receive benefits.  

"Congressman Southerland's failure to properly bury one of our nation's heroes is disgraceful," said Justin Ford, a Veteran from Tallahassee and President of VET PAC. "To make matters worse, Southerland also has long record of voting against Florida's veterans — making it harder for them to afford medical care, housing, and the benefits they have earned on the battlefield. No member of our armed forces who has sacrificed to protect our freedoms, or their families, should be treated with the indignity that Southerland's funeral home company showed Mr. Gaff."  

BACKGROUND

Southerland's funeral home company was sued for failing to properly bury Thomas Gaff, a veteran. In 2004, the Gaff Family filed a law suit against Machriste, Inc. for mishandling their father’s remains, Mr. Gaff was a veteran. The Gaff Family had hired Machriste, Inc. to bury their father, who was a veteran, after he had passed away on May 26, 2002. Machriste, Inc., refused to remove a stump from the grave. The case was settled out of court. Thomas Gaff was a veteran of the U.S. Army. [Gaff Case, Amended Complaint Petition, 2/25/04; Gaff Case, Cover Letter, 4/03/06; Gaff Case, Notice of Voluntary Dismissal, 5/09/06] 

Larry Gaff, Thomas’ son, arranged for the burial, but after the service Larry was told  by Southerland's company Thomas could not be buried at that time. Larry Gaff met with Steve Southerland Sr. to arrange for the burial of his father which included the service, the digging, laying to rest and burial of his father’s remains. After the family had done the service in the funeral home and then done the rest of the service grave-side, Steve Southerland Sr. informed Larry Gaff that his father’s grave was not ready due to a stump which was located in the grave at the time. The family later found out that the funeral home had known about the stump and not been able to get it removed from the grave starting on Tuesday, May 28, 2002. The funeral took place on Thursday, May 30, 2002. [Gaff Case, Amended Complaint Petition, 2/25/04] 

... The Family Returned the Following Day to Observe the Burial Of Thomas. Friday, May 31st, 2002, the Gaff Family returned to the gravesite to remove the tree stump and observe the burial of Thomas Gaff. When they arrived they attempted to remove the stump themselves and then called for a tree service to remove the stump. The tree service removed part of the stump and employees from Machriste said that was enough to accommodate the grave vault without inspecting the site. [Gaff Case, Amended Complaint Petition, 2/25/04] 

…The Family Returned a Third Day to Finally Bury Thomas. Saturday, June 1st, 2002, the Gaff Family returned to the gravesite for the third day to bury Thomas Gaff. When they arrived they found that the grave had not been cleared of the stump enough to fit the vault and therefore more of the stump needed to be removed to fit the vault for the burial of Thomas Gaff. The family, including women and children, tried to remove the rest of the stump again on their own and then ended up calling a backhoe operator to remove the stump. During these events the casket of Thomas was sitting on the back of a pickup truck, at one point Mr. Gaff’s grandson asked Steve Southerland Sr. (Congressman Southerland’s father) to not leave his “pa pa” in the hot sun. [Gaff Case, Amended Complaint Petition, 2/25/04] 

In 2011, Southerland received a zero rating from the Vietnam Veterans of America. [Project Vote Smart, accessed 10/30/12

Southerland Voted Against Exempting Veterans’ Services from Spending Cuts. In 2012, Southerland voted against a motion to include an amendment to H.R. 1734 that would exempt certain properties owned by the Veterans Affairs Department or used to provide veterans’ services from consideration by the new established Civilian Property Realignment Commission set up to make recommendations to the President about federal properties to be consolidated, sold, exchanged or redeveloped. The motion was rejected 186-238. [H.R. 1734, Vote #37, 2/07/12]  

Southerland Voted Against $28.3 Million for Medical and Prosthetic Research and Development. In 2012, Southerland voted against a motion to recommit which would have increased funding for medical and prosthetic research and development by $28.3 million. The bill would have used $28.3 million to invest in veteran’s health and prosthetic research and development. [CQ, House Roll Call Vote 304, 5/31/12; Congressional Record, H3358, 5/31/12]. The motion failed, 188-230. [HR 5854, Vote #304, 5/31/12] 

In 2012, Southerland voted against a $75 million dollar increase to a program that provided veterans housing assistance in the form of rental vouchers. In 2012, Southerland voted against a $75 million dollar increase to a program that provided veterans housing assistance in the form of rental vouchers. As of 2007, one in four homeless people were veterans, though veterans only made up 11% of the population as a whole. [Associated Press, 11/07/07] The motion failed, 188-233. [H.R. 5972, Vote #449, 6/29/12]

Southerland Voted to Make Benefits for Veterans Harder to Get. In 2011, Southerland voted for an amendment that would make it harder for low-income veterans and Social Security recipients to retain counsel in a civil action against the United States, like when fighting for benefits. The Lummis amendment imposed a seven-month moratorium on all legal fees paid under the Equal Access to Justice Act, a Reagan-era law designed to help people afford an attorney while suing the government. “We’re in the middle of two wars right now and to make it harder for a veteran — fighting for his benefits — to have an attorney is a horrible thing. That’s not what this country is about,” Robert Chishold, a prominent veterans’ law attorney said. [Politico, 2/23/11] The amendment passed, 232-197. [HR 1, Lummis amendment #195, Vote #85, 2/17/11].

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