Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Opening Statement of The Honorable Dina Titus, Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding a hearing on this very important topic. I also want to thank the witnesses for their attendance this morning.
It is my belief that the option of a burial in a VA national cemetery, in the state you call home, is a solemn obligation our government should fulfill. The National Cemetery Administration has grown dramatically since its creation in 1862 when 14 cemeteries were established to serve as a permanent resting place for those killed during the Civil War.
On July 17 of that year, Congress enacted legislation that authorized the President to purchase "cemetery grounds" to be used as national cemeteries "for soldiers who shall have died in the service of the country."
In 1873, ALL honorably discharged Veterans became eligible for burial.
Since then, NCA has expanded its geographic diversity to better serve Veterans across the country and recent legislation has even further expanded NCA’s reach to rural and urban areas.
There are 131 National Cemeteries in the United States. New York has seven active national cemeteries. Three other states have six active national cemeteries, and Puerto Rico has two.
However, while access has grown significantly, there is still a very large population of Veterans that do not have the option of being buried in one of our nation’s prestigious National Cemeteries in the state they call home.
The state with the largest Veterans population without a National Cemetery happens to be Nevada, home to a fast growing population of over 301,000 veterans. I represent Las Vegas, home to 170,000 veterans. We also represent the largest area in the country without a National Cemetery.
In total, 11 states with a combined Veteran population of 1.8 million are not served by a National Cemetery.
The nation’s largest group of wartime veterans phrased this challenge well in stating that, “NCA must be flexible enough in their policies to recognize locations where under current policy, no new national cemetery will be developed, but other factors like geographic barriers or states that have invested in state cemeteries but have not been granted a national cemetery MUST be considered.”
I am in complete agreement with the VFW and thank them for their testimony. While I applaud VA’s efforts to reach underserved populations, I am also concerned that NCA is not working within the local veterans’ community to determine where the placement of rural initiatives should be.
Has the VA asked the Nevada and Idaho veteran community if they agree that the rural initiatives should be in Elko and Twin Falls? I am hopeful that NCA is willing to do the right thing by engaging our local veterans with regards to the placement of these shrines in western states that have long been overlooked by our nation and the National Cemetery Administration.
I also hope that the VA is not looking to use these rural initiatives as a way to appease these states that are not served by a national cemetery and then suggest that they are served by a National Cemetery. Let’s be clear, rural initiatives are not National Cemeteries. These rural initiatives will be operated by contractors unlike National Cemeteries, and are being placed in rural areas, even by western standards, and will serve very few veterans.
It is also very concerning that NCA only surveys the families of veterans who have chosen to utilize a national cemetery, while ignoring those who chose a different option as a final resting place. If NCA is looking to offer options that serve all veterans and their families, this self-selecting survey fails to provide honest feedback.
I am hopeful to hear an update from NCA on any plans they may have to better address our western veteran’s lack of an option to be buried in a National Cemetery. Let us remember all of these veterans and servicemembers served our nation. As such, with over 130 national cemeteries, it is time to open a national cemetery to the 1.8 million veterans that do not have this option.
I yield back.