A modification of state unclaimed property rules could help lost military medals find their way home.
An amendment to a 2018's House Bill 4038 required the rule change. The bill covered a number of veteran-related topics, including providing $10 million for a new veterans home in Roseburg, creating a state cemetery for veterans, monitoring and altering the treatment of incarcerated veterans and disposition of unclaimed military medals. The bill excluded military medals and decorations from unclaimed property sold each year by the Division of State Lands.
When the rule change is adopted, the division will create a webpage with photographs and information about the medals to make it easy descendants to recover the items. The agency also will set up a safekeeping system and work with state and local military veterans' organizations, the Oregon Military Museum and other groups to track down the medals' owners or heirs.
It's all necessary because military medals are more than just "trinkets" to be sold like surplus property, said David B. Lowe, post commander for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Gresham United Post 180. Many people outside the military sometimes don't understand the importance of the decorations to both veterans and their families, Lowe said. "It is our duty."
"These medals and commendations are far more than just pretty trinkets," he said. "Individually and collectively, these medals represent the highest ideals this country was founded upon. More importantly, they represent a part of someone's life. To the family of a deceased veteran, it is the history of a part of their lives they may have never spoken about. Many families find out, after the veteran has passed, the true saga of a hero. A saga they would never know if the medals were lost."
Adopting formal rules
Lowe was part of a six-member committee that worked on the rule changes between January and March. The committee included representatives from banks, the VFW, the American Legion and the state Department of Veterans Affairs.
Oregon's Division of State Lands has been around since statehood and manages thousands of acres of forest land for the benefit of the Common School Fund. It also handles millions of dollars in unclaimed assets each year, including savings bonds, stock dividends, tax refunds and uncashed checks that banks turn over to the agency. About $50 million a year is handled by the agency, which usually finds owners for half that amount. The rest goes into the school fund.
Sometimes that property includes military medals and decorations left in safe deposit boxes. In the past, the state would dispose of them like other surplus property. After the rule change, the agency will have to make a major effort to find the medals' owner or heirs.
Ali Ryan Hansen, Department of State Lands communications manager, said it's rare for the agency to get medals from safe deposit boxes or elsewhere. The agency has 13 medals, 12 battle ribbons, nine patches, six pins and five rank and insignia its holding for safe keeping, she said. Military items held by the agency include a National Defense Medal, three Victory World War II medals, three European African Middle Eastern Campaign medals, an Army of Occupation Medal in Japan, an American Campaign medal 1941-45, an Asiatic Pacific Campaign medal and a Republic of Vietnam Service medal with a missing ribbon.
"For the most part, the proposed rules formally capture existing department practices," Hansen said. "Medals and military items primarily come to DSL from abandoned safe deposit boxes. Our practice has been to safeguard medals and items, and to also search for service members or their heirs.
"The website, which would make it easy for folks to see what medals and items the state has in safekeeping, is something new. We're aiming to have that site live July 1, which is also when we're anticipating the proposed rules would go into effect."
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