In the late 1990’s Mark McKay found himself in the mortuary business, working at what he described as a large funeral chain with locations throughout the United States.
After seven years in the business, he began to question his purpose.
“I said, ‘What can I do to give back? What [should] be my purpose in life?’”
McKay said he found that purpose by lowering funeral costs. Today he owns and operates four mortuaries in the cities of Los Angeles, Fontana, Riverside and Victorville. In Riverside, where many retirees of March Air Reserve Base reside, his mission of giving back is specific: to serve veterans and their families.
McKay hails from a family of veterans, who instilled in him strong morals of public conduct, good citizenship and respect. Working with other veteran families in preparation for a loved one’s funeral, McKay has identified one of the largest obstacles to this process: many are unaware of what veterans burial benefits they have and how to fully utilize them.
McKay describes a common problem of public cemeteries selling veteran families burial spaces with a lack of transparency.
“They won’t tell that veteran family, ‘Hey, you don’t have to buy from us, you have a free plan out there [at a VA national cemetery],” he said.
He explained that if a veteran is one hundred percent retired, there are very few costs left for the family to bear. However, for many families those costs can still be difficult to navigate and finance. McKay works with families to meet these costs in a number of ways, one being a casket donation program.
“[A casket] is important, because veterans need to be transported in something decent and respectable,” he said.
Located just minutes from Riverside National Cemetery, McKay Mortuary supports veteran families to take full advantage of their benefits and also helps those who do not have any family caring for them.
Indigent veterans are defined by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) as those who do not have enough resources available in their estate to cover the burial and funeral expenses when they pass away. Part of McKay’s mission is to serve these veterans by providing afterlife services for them, even before they pass away.
Many of these individuals are in nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities and therefore do not have control over their finances, which are often very limited to begin with. McKay has developed relationships with social workers in these facilities to allocate some of the veterans’ funds towards their afterlife services.
McKay is currently in the final steps of launching a nonprofit organization that will implement further solutions to address this issue by serving as a pipeline between social workers and the funeral home.
In October, McKay and his wife, Robin, were honored by the Veterans Administration at the Riverside National Cemetery as the only mortuary that serves indigent veterans when they die.
McKay maintains that a conversation can make a significant impact on the honoring of veterans and their families. His work in Riverside is a means to serve those who may not have loved ones to honor them after their passing. McKay is also dedicated to supporting veterans families who are unaware of how to utilize what their family member’s service guarantees or who may have trouble covering the remaining costs.
“That’s my purpose in life,” he said.