California seeks to return Purple Hearts, other property to veterans

Navajo code talker's Congressional Gold Medal is among unclaimed property being held by California

Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars and personal belongings from the battlefield are among a trove of unclaimed property the state will try to return to more than 95,000 California veterans or their families under a new effort launched by the state controller's office and veterans agency.

Most of those personal belongings were abandoned in safety deposit boxes and eventually turned over to the state to be stored in the controller’s office in the state capital.

The cache of unclaimed goods includes a handwritten account of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Navajo code talker’s Congressional Gold Medal and hat from World War I.  Along with those items, California veterans have $36.3 million worth of assets and property being held by the state, including money left in long-forgotten bank accounts, old insurance checks and forgotten utility deposits.

“Today is about upholding our commitment to our veterans and their families and, working together, returning what rightfully belongs to them,” Controller John Chiang told reporters at an afternoon news conference.

The controller is charged with storing all unclaimed property in the state, a bounty of money and personal belongings worth a total of $7.1 billion. California’s unclaimed property law, adopted in 1959, requires banks and other businesses to send unclaimed or abandoned property to the state for safekeeping after losing contact with the owner for at least three years.

To specifically target property belonging to California’s veterans, the controller merged its database of unclaimed property owners with a database of veterans kept by the state Department of Veterans Affairs. After sifting through both, the agencies found that the state was holding unclaimed property for 95,000 veterans.

“When someone serves in the military, many times they move around a lot, and family  heirlooms are forgotten, lost. Utility deposits are ignored and things get lost in the shuffle,” said CalVet Secretary Peter J. Gravett.

The veterans agency will send letters to those veterans over the next four months.

All current and former California residents can search to see if they or any family members have unclaimed property by visiting the controller’s website. No detailed descriptions are provided for unclaimed property left in safety deposit boxes, and residents must contact the controller’s office directly to get more information.

Chiang said the agency may explore making similar cooperative agreements with other agencies, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles.

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