SCHUMER ANNOUNCES $36 MILLION IN FED FUNDING NEEDED FOR CONSTRUCTION OF THE NEW WNY VETERANS’ CEMETERY HAS OFFICIALLY BEEN INCLUDED IN THE PRESIDENT’S FY 2017 BUDGET REQUEST – SCHUMER VOWS TO CONTINUE FIGHTING TO ENSURE FULL FUNDING IS INCLUDED IN FINAL APPROPRIATIONS BILL THIS YEAR
In December 2015, Schumer Launched Push To Secure Critical Funding – While VA Has Funding Needed To Complete Design & Planning Phases Of The Project Through 2016, Subsequent Construction Phase – Expected To Start In 2017 – Has Not Yet Been Funded
Since 2009, Schumer Has Worked With Local Veteran Leaders To Bring Much-Needed Veterans’ Cemetery To Western New York – Cemetery Site Is Currently In Planning & Design Stages, Which Are Set To Be Completed In 2016, But Subsequent Funding For Construction, Set To Start In 2017, Had Not Yet Been Prioritized by VA
Schumer: Now That VA Has Heeded the Call to Prioritize Veteran Cemetery Construction Money, Funding Should Be Included In Final Appropriations Bill
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that the just-released President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2017 includes $36 million in funding for the construction phase of the newest National Veterans’ Cemetery in Western New York, which is set to be located on 132 acres in Pembroke, NY. Schumer said the Veterans’ Cemetery in Genesee County will be the first and only of its kind in the Buffalo-Rochester area, and will save thousands of military families from having to travel upward of 100 miles to visit their loved ones at what is now the closest vet cemetery in Bath, NY, located in Steuben County. Schumer played an integral role in making the cemetery a reality, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is currently in its planning and design phases. Schumer said while the planning and design are expected to wrap up by the end of 2016 and have funding necessary to be completed, federal funding for the next phase – the construction phase expected to start in 2017 – has not yet been determined. Therefore, in December 2015, Schumer urged the VA to include this critical funding in the VA’s upcoming Fiscal Year 2017 budget request to safeguard against needless delays between phases. Schumer said this project’s inclusion in today’s President’s Budget is a good sign for Rochester, Buffalo and all of Western New York and he will continue fighting to ensure these funds are included in the final FY17 appropriations bill.
“Our veterans bravely protected the freedoms we cherish while serving our country, and the inclusion of this $36 million in funding in the President’s Budget means we are one step closer to providing our Western New York veterans, and their families, with a national cemetery that is close to home and imbued with significance,” saidSchumer. “We need to make sure this project can continue moving forward without delay – so I am going to be fighting tooth and nail to make sure this funding is included in the final appropriations bill for 2017. It is important we can guarantee that military veterans in this area will have a proper burial, at a site close to the homes, families and communities they dedicated their lives to serve and defend.”
Schumer explained that the establishment of the nation’s newest Veterans’ Cemetery in Western New York is a long-sought and well-deserved opportunity to honor the more than 96,000 veterans and family members in this region who will have a proper military burial at a site close to their homes, families, and communities they served and defended. This Veterans’ Cemetery will be the first and only of its kind in the Buffalo-Rochester area, and will save thousands of military families from having to travel more than 100 miles in some cases to visit their loved ones at what is now the closest Veterans' Cemetery in Bath, NY.
The planning portion of the design process for the new cemetery is anticipated to be complete by the latter part of January, and the remainder of the cemetery design process phase is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016. However, Schumer said the initial difficulties in acquiring this Western New York property took an unusually long four years and, therefore, it is critical to proactively ensure adequate funding for the subsequent construction phase of the cemetery’s development to safeguard against additional delays between phases.
Schumer said that while the VA had funding to complete the land acquisition phase and now has the funding for the design and planning scopes of work planned through calendar year 2016, the federal agency still needs to budget funding for the construction phase. With the construction phase scheduled to begin in calendar year 2017, Schumer said now is the time to prepare adequate funding in the upcoming FY17 budget cycle to guard against potential delays. Schumer said that if the funding is not included in FY17, there is a greater chance there will be a gap or lag time before construction can begin. Instead, Schumer said the veterans and veteran families of Western New York – who have long waited for this cemetery – deserve to see a process that is as seamless as possible.
According to guidance provided by the VA on cemetery development timelines, it can typically take up to 24 months to complete the cemetery master planning and design process. Following the completion of that phase, the construction phase typically requires 24-30 months to compete, with early-use burial areas made available approximately 12 months after the start of construction.
Schumer has long fought to make this project a reality:
- · In May 2014, Schumer announced that the VA had selected a site for the long-awaited Western New York Veterans’ Cemetery on a 132-acre parcel at 1232 Indian Falls Road in the Town of Pembroke, Genesee County.
- · This was the culmination of years of work beginning in 2009 when Schumer, together with various veterans groups, led the charge to bring a much-needed veterans’ cemetery to Western New York arguing that a lack of a national veterans’ cemetery within a 75-mile radius of Buffalo and Rochester meant that it was long-past time for the 96,000 underserved veterans and family members living in Western New York to have a fitting burial option closer to home.
- · In 2010, the VA responded and announced it would establish a new veteran’s cemetery in Western New York. An updated VA policy dictated the construction of a national cemetery in areas where there are at least 80,000 veterans that reside at least 75-miles from an existing cemetery. In Western New York, there are 96,000 who live up to 100 miles away from the closest National Veterans Cemetery in Bath, NY
- · In March 2012, after the VA failed to find suitable land to purchase following two separate solicitation attempts, Schumer wrote to then-VA Secretary Shinseki to urge that the VA put forth a clear timeline and path forward to avoid another protracted process that could come up empty. In response, the VA dispatched personnel to Western New York to conduct site visits at several sites in WNY, issued a final solicitation for sites, and developed several candidate sites for evaluation, of which one was the 132-acre site in Pembroke that the VA subsequently acquired.
- · In April 2013, Schumer organized a meeting at Daemen College with local veterans and VA officials to update Veterans on the VA’s timeline and in order for veterans to provide input to the VA.
- · In Sept 2013, Schumer wrote to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (SHPO) to urge the agency to complete an archeological cultural-resource study required in order for the VA to complete the required approvals needed to close on the purchase of the preferred Indian Falls Road site in Pembroke.
- · In May 2014, Schumer announced that the results of the archeological cultural-resource study determined a finding of “no significant impacts,” thus allowing the VA to move forward on the purchase of the preferred site on Indiana Falls Road later that month.
- · In July 2014, Schumer called on the VA to move forward on plans to acquire the adjoining 60-acre parcel that abuts the current 132 acre site. This would immediately make the cemetery nearly 50% larger, increase capacity, and provide better access to the cemetery for veterans’ funeral processions and visitors
The 132- acre site on Indian Falls Road in Pembroke is located approximately 30 miles from Buffalo and 48 miles from Rochester. The cemetery will provide a fitting burial option to approximately 96,000 currently underserved veterans and family members living in Western New York. Veterans with a qualifying discharge, their spouses and eligible dependent children may be buried in a VA national cemetery. Also eligible are military personnel who die on active duty, their spouses and eligible dependents. Burial benefits available for all eligible Veterans, regardless of whether they are buried in a national cemetery or a private cemetery, include a burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate and a government headstone or marker.
A copy of Schumer’s original letter to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs appears below:
Dear Secretary McDonald,
I am writing to express my support for the ongoing development and subsequent construction of the new VA cemetery in Western New York, in the town of Pembroke, and ask for your assistance in keeping its development timeline on track. Specifically I ask that funding be included in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2017 (FY17) President's Budget request for the cemetery's construction phase.
The establishment of the nation's newest National Veterans Cemetery in Western New York is a long-sought and well deserved opportunity to honor the more than 96,000 veterans and family members in this region by ensuring that they will have a proper military burial at a site close to their homes, families, and communities they served and defended. I was very pleased to support the establishment of this cemetery as it fills a major gap in coverage for our veterans. This Veterans' Cemetery will be the first and only of its kind in the Buffalo-Rochester area, and will save thousands of military families from having to travel upward of 100 miles to visit their loved ones at what is now the closest Veterans' Cemetery in Bath, NY.
However, as you know due to difficulties in acquiring suitable property in Western New York it took an unusually long four years before the current 132 acre site in Pembroke was acquired. Therefore, it is critically important to budget adequate funding for each phase of the cemetery's development, from planning and design through construction phases, to safeguard against needless delays between phases.
I understand that the Cemetery Master Planning portion of the design process for the new cemetery is scheduled to be complete by the latter part of January, and that the remainder of the cemetery design process phase is on schedule and will occur throughout the rest of calendar year 2016. While the VA has current funding to complete the land acquisition and design/planning scope of work planned through calendar year 2016, the VA still needs to budget funding for the subsequent construction phase. With the construction phase now on the horizon for calendar year 2017, now is the time to prepare adequate funding in the upcoming FY17 budget for construction.
My concern is that if funding is not included in FY17, there is a greater chance for significant delay between the design and construction phases, a risk that I ask you to take measures to safeguard against now.
I thank you for your consideration of this matter. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me or my staff.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator