(WKBW release) Friday, following reports that the Department of Veterans Affairs has not found a viable cemetery site among those being considered over the previous year in Western New York, New York Senator Charles E. Schumer called on the Department to put forward a strict and expedited timeline to ensure that the veterans cemetery avoids further delay.
According to a news release from Schumer's office:
On Thursday, the VA announced it will conduct yet a third site solicitation to canvas for new potential sites, which delays the timeline for this critical project by another 12 to 15 months for due diligence and acquisition, all without any assurance of success. This announcement moves backwards from progress made in March 2011, when the VA announced their plans to visit six potential veterans cemetery sites in Western New York, followed by the determination to further evaluate at least two of the sites for its “due diligence” phase. Given this additional setback, Schumer called on the VA to prioritize the successful creation of a National Cemetery in Western New York and to expedite the due diligence phase for sites identified in this latest third solicitation. The continued failure to acquire the necessary land for the cemetery, delays the design and building phase that will ultimately lead to a suitable resting place for Western New York veterans.
“After everything the veterans of Western New York have done in service of their nation, it is imperative that they have a local resting place where they can receive the honor they deserve,” said Schumer. “The VA’s announcement this week that this cemetery has met yet another roadblock is unacceptable, and I’m urging the VA to expedite their third site solicitation and to establish a clear and strict timeline moving forward. Requiring a grieving family to travel over 100 miles to bury or visit their loved ones is unreasonable and unnecessary, especially when there are suitable locations in Western New York. We have to get this project done so that hundreds of thousands of veterans in Western New York can have the burial ground they deserve.”
In Schumer’s letter to VA Secretary Shinseki, he reiterated his grave concern with the Department’s latest timeline for selecting a Western New York veteran’s cemetery site. There are approximately 200,000 veterans in Western New York, including the Rochester region and those veterans who live more than 75 miles from the nearest available National Cemetery. VA regulations requires that a new National Cemetery be established when a cemetery would serve 80,000 or more veterans within a 75 mile area.
The VA’s announcement of a third site solicitation comes a year after a March 2011 announcement in which the VA outlined the firm schedule for site selection that Schumer had strongly lobbied for. In late March, the VA visited six potential locations, and the officials assessed which sites best fit the VA’s criteria, which included factors such as the site’s topography, access to highways, proximity to wetlands, and the impact of neighboring facilities. After this assessment was completed, the VA ranked and scored each site as part of its evaluation process, and the VA narrowed the field of candidate sites to the top few and proceeded with a more detailed due diligence analysis. At that time, the VA indicated that it would then be on track to acquire the property by the end of this year or the Spring of 2012. However, Thursday’s announcement that the VA now believes none of these sites will be viable and it plans to restart the entire site search will add 12 to 15 months to what has already been a protracted timeline.
Veterans Affairs began seeking a cemetery site in August 2010, with the effort focused within a 50 mile diameter area which included parts of Erie County, Orleans County, Niagara County and Genesee county. In January 2011, the VA announced that they were starting over and had moved the area under consideration to the east and would center it in Genesee County. A year later, the recent news that yet a third site solicitation will be conducted by the VA pushes that timeline back another 12-15 months.
Schumer has long argued that it is critical for the veterans cemetery location to be decided on and for building to begin immediately. Half of New York Veterans are 65 years of age or older, and now is the time to start planning for the future of those veterans, and ensuring that they are treated with the honor they deserve. Schumer has heard from local veterans groups that veterans in Western New York desperately want to be buried in a national shrine, but don’t want to force their families to travel long distances to visit, potentially at great hardship to do so. Today, there are more than 22 million veterans who are eligible for the honor of burial in a National Cemetery. Veterans with discharges other than dishonorable, their spouses and dependent children may be eligible for burial in a VA national cemetery. Those who die on active duty may also be buried in a national cemetery.