Opening Statement of Hon. Doug Lamborn, Ranking Republican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Colorado
Thank you Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing on America’s national cemeteries.
I thank our witnesses in advance for their testimony today and for their dedication to serving America’s veterans and their families.
Properly honoring a deceased veteran is one of our most solemn and indeed sacred obligations.
These patriots have earned honored repose in a national shrine. They and their families are due the tribute and thanks of a grateful nation.
As members of the Greatest Generation pass from our presence, we are seeing increased demand on all of our national cemeteries. VA estimates that interments in national cemeteries will rise from the current level of 2.8 million to 3.2 million by 2012.
Mr. Chairman, it is for that reason especially that I thank you for your leadership in helping to pass H.R. 1660 out of this subcommittee two weeks ago. This bill would establish a national cemetery in southern Colorado and greatly benefit those veterans and families in this fast-growing area.
To ensure that national cemeteries under its jurisdiction, both new and old, are maintained as national shrines, VA is at work fulfilling its excellent National Shrine Commitment. That effort, however, is still years from completion.
That is why in the Fiscal Year 2008 Republican Views and Estimates, we recommended an additional $9 million over the Administration’s $166.8 million request for operations and maintenance at VA’s National Cemetery Administration.
Further, Mr. Chairman, we recommended an additional $5 million for minor construction.
We also recommended an additional $60 million to accelerate VA’s five-year strategic plan to fund national cemetery gravesite expansion and shrine completion: we should not wait for years to ensure that the resting places for these patriots reflects our nation’s recognition of their service and sacrifice.
It is my understanding that most of our national cemeteries are kept in excellent condition; certainly my own experience of the Fort Logan National Cemetery reinforces this perception.
I am pleased to note that we have today a representative of the American Battle Monuments Commission. The commission’s standards are legendary, and I hope to soon visit one or more of their cemeteries for our war dead.
Disappointing exceptions to these high standards do exist, however.
Andersonville National Cemetery in Andersonville, Georgia, the site of the notorious Confederate prisoner of war camp, is one of 13 national cemeteries run by the National Parks Service. Andersonville is one of two run by the Parks Service that currently inters veterans.
My staff is now passing out photos that depict the deteriorating condition of gravestones and construction at Andersonville. I look forward to learning more about operations and maintenance at this and other Parks Service cemeteries, as well as cemeteries run by VA and the ABMC.
Mr. Chairman, if it is within the capacity of Congress to help ensure that any national cemetery now deficient rises to the highest standards, we must not delay in that work.
Thank you Mr. Chairman, and I yield back.