FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 23, 2009
SCHUMER, LOCAL VETS CALL ON VA TO CREATE NATIONAL VETERANS CEMETERY TO GIVE BUFFALO'S HEROES THE LOCAL RESTING PLACE THEY DESERVE
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer, standing with Patrick Welch, Director of Erie County Veterans Service and other local veterans and families, is calling on the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to designate Pine Lawn Cemetery in Cheektowaga a National Veterans Cemetery. Currently the families of Western New York veterans have to travel all the way to Bath, NY, over 100 miles away to bury or visit their loved ones. This has created unnecessary hardship for those who want their family members to be buried with the full honors they deserve. For many years local veterans have been working towards a national cemetery, and today Schumer is joining their cause. A National Veteran’s Cemetery designation will allow Western New York veterans and their families to receive full benefits without having to travel to Bath, NY. These benefits include opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a Government headstone or marker, a burial flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate, at no cost to the family.
“After everything the veterans of Western New York have done for us, it is imperative that they have a local resting place where they can receive the honors they deserve,” said Schumer. “To make a grieving family travel over 100 miles to bury or visit their loved ones is unreasonable and unnecessary, especially when there is such a suitable location right here in Cheektowaga. I’d like to thank all the veterans with me here today for working on this noble undertaking.”
“The Veterans of Western New York are greatly appreciative that Senator Schumer has decided to become the champion for our cause” said Patrick Welch, Director of Erie County Veteran’s Services.
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 require that a there be more than 170,000 veterans more than 75 miles away from the closest National Cemetery for another one to be created. In Western New York alone there are approximately 125,000 veterans. Add in the Rochester area, which is also more than 75 miles away from Bath, and you have more than 175,000 veterans, more than enough for the area to qualify for an additional National Cemetery, noted Schumer.
Pine Lawn Cemetery is the ideal place for New York’s newest national cemetery, as it has many ties to the military community, according to Schumer and local veterans groups. The existing Veterans Wall commands a prominent place in Pine Lawn Cemetery and provides a focus for events and celebrations. The cemetery group reaches out to the military community and hosts annual Memorial Day and Veterans Day celebrations. Additionally, Pine Lawn Cemetery was honored to host the "Moving Wall" Vietnam Memorial in 1998, an event that attracted 75,000 visitors to its cemetery. If the VA were to designate another piece of land as a National Cemetery, construction could take between 5 and 7 years. Pine Lawn would be ready immediately.
Pine Lawn is a natural location for a National Cemetery within Erie County, and Erie County is the most suitable location in New York State. Erie County has the highest concentration of veterans in Upstate New York, and the veteran’s population is of an advanced age. Forty five percent of New York Veterans are of more than 70 years of age. Now is the time to start planning for the future to ensure that our veterans 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, potentially at great hardship to do so.
The quest to make Pine Lawn a National Cemetery has been undertaken by a broad coalition of local groups and lawmakers over the last five years. In 2005 the New York State Cemetery’s Commission set out to recommend locations across New York State that would be suitable for a National Veterans Cemetery. In Western New York, Pine Lawn was the only location they selected that could be immediately ready. The effort to make Pine Lawn a National Veteran’s Cemetery has been supported by the Vietnam Veterans of America, Veteran’s of Foreign Wars, The American Legion, American Veterans (AMVETS), Disabled American Veterans, and Veterans of Modern Warfare.
The breakdown of Veterans in Western New York is as follows:
Today, more than 24 million veterans and Reservists and National Guard members with 20 years qualifying service have earned 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.