AT SCHUMER’S URGING: VETERANS CEMETERY PROJECT MOVES FORWARD, VA TO CONDUCT WNY SITE VISITS THIS WEEK
Schumer: VA’s Announcement Brings WNY Vets One Step Closer to the Proper Burial Ground They Deserve
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) plans to visit six potential veterans cemetery sites this week in Western New York: three sites in Alden, one site in Akron, one site in Leroy, and one site in East Bethany. The six sites were generated from the VA’s Expression of Interest solicitation which was issued earlier this year. Earlier this month, Schumer wrote a letter to Secretary Shinseki of the VA, urging that the VA establish a firm timeline for completion of the long overdue veterans’ cemetery in Western New York, specifically in choosing the cemetery site. The VA has yet to acquire the necessary land for the cemetery, further delaying the design and building phase that will ultimately lead to a suitable resting place for Western New York veterans. Today’s announcement marks a step in the right direction towards bringing a long overdue cemetery to over 200,000 veterans in Western New York.
“I have long fought for this veterans cemetery in Western New York to become a reality, and today’s news that the VA will be visiting six potential cemetery sites in Western New York is an important step towards finally finding a suitable resting place for Western New York vets,” Schumer said. “After everything the many thousands of veterans in this region have done for us, it is imperative that they have a local resting place where they can receive the honor they deserve.”
VA National Cemetery officials announced that they will be in Buffalo on Wednesday, March 30th, to conduct site visits at 6 potential cemetery sites within the VA’s target area in WNY. This target area is the area 7 miles to the North and south of the Thruway, and about 20 miles to the East and West of the Town of Pembroke in Genesee County. The six locations being assessed are three sites in Alden, one site in Akron, one site in Leroy, and one site in East Bethany. These six potential sites were generated from the VA’s Expression of Interest solicitation which was issued in January 2011.
In a March 7th letter to Secretary Shinseki of the VA, Schumer wrote, “There are some 200,000 veterans in the Buffalo-Rochester region who are not served by a national cemetery. They have waited too long for this important project and they have been disturbed by a lack of information and communications with the VA. I urge you to ensure timely progress in selecting and developing a site, and I request that a firm schedule for the project be established and shared with the community.” In today’s announcement, the VA outlined the firm schedule that Schumer had strongly lobbied for. During the VA’s visits to each location, the officials will assess which sites best fit the VA’s criteria, which includes factors such as the site’s topography, access to highways, proximity to wetlands, and the impact of neighboring facilities. After this assessment is complete, the VA will rank and score each site as part of its evaluation process. The VA will then narrow the field of candidate sites to the top two and will proceed with a more detailed due diligence analysis. The VA anticipates that this review will continue for most of this year. If it proceeds accordingly, the VA would then be on track to acquire the 200-acres of property by the end of this year or the Spring of 2012. The VA will then hire an architectural/engineering firm to help develop the master plan for the site, clearing the way for construction.
There are currently six National Cemeteries in New York State, but the facility in Bath is the only one in all of Central New York, Western New York, the Southern Tier and the Rochester Finger Lakes Region. Current VA regulations allow for establishment of a new cemetery when it would serve 80,000 or more veterans within a 75 mile area. In Western New York alone there are approximately 125,000 veterans. Combined with the Rochester area, which is also more than 75 miles away from the nearest national cemetery in Bath, there are more than 200,000 veterans without appropriate access to a cemetery. A cemetery location in Western New York not only makes sense, but would fulfill an urgent need of these veterans.
Veterans Affairs began seeking a cemetery site in August 2010, with the effort focused within a 50 mile diameter area which included parts of Ontario, Canada, Lake Erie, 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. Today’s announcement means that these milestones in the process will not continued to be pushed back.
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.