Honorable Dina Titus, Ranking Minority Member
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for holding a hearing on this very important topic.
I also want to thank the witnesses for their attendance this morning. I appreciate your flexibility regarding rescheduling this hearing.
It is my belief that a proper burial for our Nation’s Veterans is a solemn obligation. 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.
However, while access has grown significantly, there is still a very large population of veterans that do not have a nearby national cemetery in which to be buried.
The state of Nevada does not have a national cemetery. This leaves over 230,000 veterans without the option of being buried in one of our nation’s prestigious national cemeteries within their home state.
In total, 11 states with a combined Veteran population of 1.8 million are without an active national cemetery.
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.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on ways to improve access to national cemeteries for all veterans, especially those that live in states that currently do not have one.
With that said, I am also well aware of some of the recent challenges that the VA has faced in regards to the audits that the National Cemetery Administration self-initiated. Though it is always disturbing and unacceptable to hear of those instances in which Veterans were incorrectly interred, or that the incorrect markers were placed, I applaud the VA for taking the initiative to identify the need for this review, identifying these issues, and promptly working to correct them.
I also applaud the VA-OIG in working with VA to improve the audit process. Most important, is that these instances are identified and corrected immediately, allowing loved ones the peace of mind that they deserve. I ask that VA continue to conduct these audits on a rolling basis, while also identifying quality controls to ensure that these mistakes do not happen again, and that the Committee be apprised of your findings.
At the end of March, I sent a letter to Secretary Shinseki commending him for allowing the first same sex burial at a national cemetery. I was joined by 40 of my colleagues to urge the Secretary to grant similar waivers in the future. It is only right that those who bravely serve their country should be laid to rest next to the person they love.
Today I also welcome our witnesses from Arlington National Cemetery and the American Battle Monuments Commission. I commend the work that you do in upholding the sacred trust and look forward to hearing more of your insights on how current budget constraints affect your missions.
Lastly, I would like to offer my thanks to Ms. Kari Lin Cowan for sharing her troubling story regarding her experiences at National Memorial Cemetery, and to Ms. Zumatto and Ms. Neiberger-Miller for their work with our veterans and their survivors. I hope that your testimony provides the Committee the perspective we need to ensure that these facilities are serving our nations Veterans and their families with the kindness, respect and sensitivity that they deserve.
I yield back.