BUSHNELL, Fla. (WFLA) — For the second time in the past year, a deceased widow has been interred with the wrong late husband at Florida National Cemetery.
The veteran’s cemetery, located in Bushnell, first came under scrutiny last August when the cremains of a woman were mistakenly mixed with the wrong veteran’s cremains.
This summer, there was another mistake: A widow’s casket was found in a crypt with the wrong late husband.
Jack Hales, a Texas attorney who specializes in cemetery and funeral home negligence, called the mistakes “horrendous.”
“It’s a very special type of trust that you’re giving and it opens that floodgate for, ‘What else was wrong?'” Hales said. “If they say they fixed it, can I trust that fix really happened?”
Local morticians who were contacted by News 2’s sister station, WFLA, declined to comment on the mix-ups, due to their working relationships with the cemetery.
The most recent mistake was discovered in June. A widow from the Tampa Bay area who died at nearly 80 had previously made plans to be buried with her late husband. But when his grave vault was opened, there was already a second casket inside.
VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes said the spouses had “similar” names.
“During the scheduling of a subsequent burial of a Veteran’s spouse, we discovered the already interred remains of an unclaimed spouse with a similar name as the Veteran’s spouse,” Hayes said in an emailed statement.
The June mix-up was found in Section 628, where the wrong spouse was interred in the grave about three years ago. Those remains were replaced by the correct spouse and laid to rest again, this time in a different section, with a veteran believed to be the actual late husband.
The VA had also said the ashes involved in last August’s incident were separated after they were mistakenly comingled. (Several experts have said cremains are often different colors, but admitted it would be very difficult to accurately separate sets of ashes.)
Hayes said the families tied to the June 2023 incident were notified.
“We resolved the matter quickly, sincerely apologized to the family, and worked closely with them to honor their wishes and pay tribute to their beloved Veteran,” Hayes said.
There are no records of complaints filed about either mistake with Florida Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services. Attempts to get comments from the families involved have been unsuccessful.
According to Hales, laws for this type of alleged negligence vary from state to state. The issue is not covered by federal law, he said.
“There’s really no federal protection,” Hales said. “If you look for federal rules regarding funeral homes and cemeteries, it doesn’t address what about mishandling my loved one’s remains.”