Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that he is urging the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to establish a firm timeline for completion of the long overdue veterans' cemetery in Western New York. Due to repeated delays and indecision, 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. Schumer is also urging the VA to establish a liaison with local veterans groups that have long sought a resting place for their fellow veterans, and are in desperate need of information.
"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 honor 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 are such suitable locations right here in Genesee County. A decision deadline must be established so Western New Yorkers can finally have a suitable resting place for their loved ones."
Schumer stood at the American Legion Hall, and was joined by leaders from area veterans groups as he demanded hard and fast deadlines to make the veterans' cemetery a reality as soon as possible.
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 location in Genesee County is a perfect middle ground, and is not only qualified but in urgent need of a veterans cemetery.
Eight years ago, a group of veterans started the process to get a cemetery dedicated for veterans in Western New York. Patrick Welch presented over 10,000 signatures that he and other veterans collected to State Senator Volker and Assemblyman Schimminger. Despite these leaders' prodigious efforts, a veteran's cemetery was not approved. New York State has not allowed funding for the operation and maintenance of a state veterans cemetery, even though the VA makes funds available for the establishment of state veterans cemeteries. For several years, Schumer worked hard alongside the veteran's community of Western New York to find a way to get a National Veterans Cemetery. The VA responded to Schumer's case by agreeing to establish a new veteran's cemetery. The final step in this process is to find a suitable site for this National Cemetery in Western New York. Schumer states that this final step must move faster and with more certainty.
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, 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. Restarting this process unnecessarily delays the construction of the much needed cemetery in Western New York, and these milestones cannot continue to be pushed back.
Veterans and their loved ones in Western New York have waited too long for this important project, and have been frustrated by a lack of information and communications with the VA. Schumer urges timely progress in selecting and developing a site, and requests that a firm schedule for the project be established and shared with the community. Schumer also argues that the process would be greatly improved if an ombudsman were appointed to liaison with veterans groups and community members who have so much at stake in this matter.
Schumer argues 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.
Schumer's Letter to the Honorable Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veterans Affairs appears below:
March 7, 2011
The Honorable Eric Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Shinseki:
I call your attention to the planned Veterans Cemetery in Western New York. It has been my great privilege to work with and support the veterans groups who have sought for many years to establish a proper burial ground for veterans in this region. Your decision last winter to locate a national cemetery in this area was received with overwhelming gratitude.
However, it is truly disappointing that no tangible progress has been made since that decision from over a year ago.
There are some 200,000 veterans in the BuffaloRochester 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. Likewise, I believe that the process would be greatly improved if an ombudsman were appointed to liaison with veterans groups and community members who have so much at stake in this matter. Half of New York Veterans are 65 or older, and we cannot afford to delay this project which will ensure that these heroes are treated with the honor they deserve.
Thank you for your time and attention to the needs of New York veterans. Please feel free to contact me if I can be of any assistance.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator