Ethan Beiser said he was shocked, not to mention angry, when he saw a Facebook post Thursday saying that his father had been laid to rest by a group that provides funerals for homeless veterans.
His father, he wants the world to know, was by no means homeless, he said.
Beiser, of Islip, spent Friday searching for the reason why his father, Irving Beiser, 84, was among a handful of vets provided a funeral Thursday by the Long Island chapter of the Dignity Memorial Homeless Veterans Burial Program.
The answer, he said, just made him angrier. When his father died in 2017, Ethan Beiser said he followed his father's wishes and donated his body to the Stony Brook University School of Medicine for classes and research. He said he gave his contact information to the school, which he said assured him that his father's cremated remains would be returned to the family.
That didn't happen, he said. Beiser said the medical school presented his father's ashes to the veterans burial group. Irving Beiser was among five veterans given full military honors Thursday at Long Island National Cemetery in Pinelawn.
"All of a sudden he's one of the veterans who they're saying was homeless and alone," said Beiser, 44. "I was with him when he passed. He was in hospice. … He was never homeless, never alone."
Beiser said the family wanted to provide their own funeral for his father, who, he added, lived in East Islip for over 30 years.
"It's left my family feeling betrayed," he said. "It sickens me that we couldn't be there."
Stony Brook officials responded with a statement and declined to further elaborate.
The statement, attributed to media relations officer Lauren Sheprow, said that the body donation program at Stony Brook only accepts voluntary body donations for use in medical education and research. Most donors preregister and fill out forms themselves, but a few are donated by the family after their passing, the statement said.
"At the time when an individual passes, the next-of-kin signs a release form that is witnessed by two individuals," the statement said. "The program follows strict guidelines, and does not accept homeless or unidentified deceased individuals, and would not designate a donor as such."
Beiser said Stony Brook officials told him Friday that they had sent out a letter saying the family could pick up his father's ashes. But he said the school sent the letter to his father's old address in Islip, not the address of the next of kin.
"They should have sent it to me," he said.
Charles Spencer, the Long Island chairman of the veterans burial program, said he was contacted to pick up Beiser's ashes by the local representative of the national group called the Missing in America Project. The project provides funerals for veterans who are homeless, poor or without any family to claim them.
Linda Smith, the national director of the Missing in America Project, said the group has provided funerals and burials for some 4,000 vets and their spouses since forming in 2007. She said there have been perhaps three instances over the years in which a family comes forth after these funeral services.
Smith said she planned to look into the matter.
Irving Beiser had served in the Air Force during the Korean War, his son said. He played jazz piano professionally and did some security work.
"How does something like this happen?" Ethan Beiser said. "I was angry, and I'm still angry."