Hon. Doug Lamborn, Ranking Republican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Colorado
Good afternoon, thank you Chairman Hall.
I would like to personally thank you, Mr. Salazar, and your staff for making this field hearing possible. There is a lot of work involved with bringing Congress to Southern Colorado and I appreciate it. It is an honor to participate in this momentous occasion. I also thank you and your staff for your flexibility and patience with the number of witnesses that will present important testimony today.
I would also like to thank all of the witnesses for being here today, especially my good friend, Undersecretary for Memorial Affairs Bill Tuerk, for joining us here today to discuss the Department of Veterans Affairs policy for the construction of new national cemeteries.
Mr. Chairman, properly honoring a deceased veteran is one of our most sacred and solemn responsibility. These patriots have earned honored repose in a national shrine. Veterans and their families are due the tribute and thanks of a grateful nation. We should ensure that the final resting place for our great heroes is accessible to family members and all proud Americans who come and pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of those brave men and women who have borne the battle.
We are seeing increased demand on all of our national cemeteries, especially as members of the Greatest Generation pass from our presence. VA estimates that interments in national cemeteries will rise from the current level of 2.8 million to 3.2 million by 2012.
The National Cemetery Administration (NCA) estimates that as early as 2016 Fort Logan National Cemetery will be at full capacity and they will be looking to construct a replacement cemetery.
Today Mr. Chairman, we will hear very emotional and eloquent testimony from Coloradans who are personally affected by the distance of the national cemetery in Fort Logan near Denver to their homes and communities.
I believe that there is a better way to determine need than drawing circles in a 75 mile radius around a national cemetery to determine where the most “underserved” veterans are.
There are many other factors that need to be taken into account including travel time to and from national cemeteries, access to public transportation in the area, and other factors that are more tangible than a large circle on a map.
However, I know that this problem is not just limited to Southern Colorado; and if we held this hearing in many other cities and towns across the nation that we would find these problems and concerns extend to many rural and urban regions like Nebraska, New York City, Los Angeles, Buffalo, NY, and many other areas that are adversely affected by VA’s somewhat arbitrary rules.
Mr. Chairman, it is for that reason that I was pleased to work with you and Mr. Salazar to pass H.R. 1660, as amended, in the House last year.
This bill would authorize the establishment of a national cemetery in El Paso County and greatly benefit those veterans and families in this fast-growing area. This bill represents a major step forward in campaign to establish a national cemetery. I urge our colleagues in the Senate, including Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs Senator Akaka of Hawaii to take this bill up as soon as possible.
I also hope that all of our witnesses understand that when this legislation is enacted we must all work together to help NCA find a suitable location for this cemetery that serves the highest number of veterans and their families. I believe that this location should be in El Paso County and I will work with you Mr. Secretary to ensure that this is the case.
I want to thank everyone once again for being here and I am looking forward to the testimony.
Thank you Mr. Chairman, I yield back and welcome you to Colorado!