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Veteran's daughter sues over father's remains

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- The daughter of a Vietnam War veteran who died in 2005 has sued county officials, saying they mishandled her father's remains by burying him in a pauper's grave when he deserved higher honors.

Michelle Hernandez said she was estranged from her father, Edward Nellis, when he died. She became ill last year and wanted to know about her father. She learned he was buried in a mass grave.

“He was a dad, he was a veteran and he was a grandfather,” Hernandez said. “He didn't deserve this. Why did they do this to my dad?”

Fred Salanti of the Missing in America Project told the Sacramento Bee this happens too often, but things have changed since a 2012 law gave groups like his authority to step in when relatives can't be found.

Salanti said his organization based in Redding has performed some 2,000 funerals across the country for veterans who would have gone unnoticed by officials. He said Sacramento County was among those overlooking veterans' service records, putting them in pauper's graves.

After his death, Hernandez said her father's cremated remains sat in storage for nearly two years. He was then buried in a mass grave, but she said count officials knew that his records showed he was a veteran and deserved to be placed in a national cemetery.

Interim Coroner Kim Gin said told the newspaper that she could not discuss details of the pending lawsuit. But she said the county has changed its procedures in light of the 2012 law.

Hernandez says she has since moved his cremated remains to a national cemetery. She's still traumatized by the ordeal, she said.

“He's been buried in a mass grave,” Hernandez said. “He's been left on the shelf at the morgue. These images won't go away.”

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Information from: The Sacramento Bee, http://www.sacbee.com

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