Mr Chairman and members of the Subcommittee:
Thank you for allowing The American Legion Department of Colorado to present its views on the VA Cemetery Construction Policy and whether it is meeting the needs of today’s Veterans and their families.
I have enclosed a copy of the resolution adopted by our national organization as part of my written testimony that was passed by our national convention in Salt Lake City in August of 2006. This remains our current position on the burial allowances and burial plot allowances and the establishment of additional national and state veteran’s cemeteries.
Specifically I would like to concentrate my remarks on the need for additional cemetery space in Colorado and hopefully in the Colorado Springs area serving veterans in the southern parts of Colorado and other areas not served by a national cemetery
The population of the state of Colorado continues to grow and new veterans and their families are a part of that growth. Historically, because of the numerous military establishments in the southern Colorado area, veterans return to Colorado after their tour of duty to retire or to make Colorado their new home because of the climate, environment and the strong military support systems in place. This trend has continued for many, many years and I don’t see that trend abating anytime soon. With the new veteran population growth will come the need for new cemetery space and the Southern Colorado area is the perfect place for a new cemetery establishment.
I understand there is debate on whether a new cemetery would need to be a stand alone national cemetery with its own unique name and its own administration or a satellite of the Ft Logan Cemetery in Denver. As Department Commander of The American Legion I would like to put our organization on record as favoring the brand new concept and we would not favor the satellite concept. I do not believe that a satellite could or would adequately address the needs of the veteran or their family. For instance, during our winters in Colorado on many occasions Colorado Springs is separated and isolated from Denver because of inclement weather over Monument Hill. To count on the Ft Logan establishment to provide support services during those times would possibly delay or cancel services for those being interned. This would not be an acceptable outcome for our veteran heroes. All support services must be co-located within the new cemetery.
As to the exact location we will leave that decision to the planners to determine the best location that will meet all of the provisions of the law and requirements for growth and space to provide the absolute best setting in terms of view, landscape and serenity for the final resting spot for America’s veterans but we are adamant that the location be south of Monument Hill and located so that the maximum number of veterans be served.
In closing we want to thank the subcommittee for the opportunity to express our views and we want to continue to be a part of the discussions and decision making process. We stand ready as an organization of over 2.7 million veterans nationwide to put our strong voice behind your efforts.
EIGHTY-EIGHTH NATIONAL CONVENTION
THE AMERICAN LEGION
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH
AUGUST 29, 30, 31, 2006
RESOLUTION NO.: 313
SUBJECT:The American Legion Policy on the National Cemetery Administration
Submitted by: Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation
WHEREAS, The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration (NCA) was established by Congress and approved by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 to provide for the proper burial and registration of graves of Civil War dead; and
WHEREAS, NCA is currently comprised of 123 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico, as well as, 33 soldiers’ lots and monuments; and
WHEREAS, More than 2.5 million Americans including veterans of every war and conflict are buried in VA’s national cemeteries; and
WHEREAS, More than 25 million veterans and Reservists and National Guard members have earned the honor of burial in a national cemetery; and
WHEREAS, Annual internments in national cemeteries have annually increased and are projected to increase for the next several years due to an aging veteran population; and
WHEREAS, Appropriate land acquisition is a key component to providing continued accessibility to burial options; and
WHEREAS, Operations, maintenance, renovation, and construction funding must continually be adjusted to reflect the true requirements of the National Cemetery Administration; and
WHEREAS, NCA administers a program of grants to states to assist them in establishing or improving state-operated veterans cemeteries in locations where there are no nearby national cemeteries; and
WHEREAS, In 2005, there were 61 operating state cemeteries that performed more than 200,000 internments; and
WHEREAS, Congress must provide sufficient major construction appropriations to permit NCA to accomplish its stated goal of ensuring that burial in a national or state cemetery is a realistic option by locating cemeteries within 75 miles of ninety percent of all veterans; and
WHEREAS, In addition to providing a grave site, NCA provides a headstone or marker, a Presidential Memorial certificate, a U.S. Flag, and perpetual care for the grave; and
WHEREAS, The 1990 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act eliminated the then-headstone allowance of $85, which was paid to all eligible veterans in lieu of a government-provided headstone or marker and now directly provides a standard government headstone or grave marker to eligible veterans anywhere in the world; and
WHEREAS, VA pays a burial allowance of $2,000 for veterans who die of service-related causes. For veterans who were receiving VA compensation or pension, VA pays $300 for burial and funeral expenses and $300 for a plot. The plot allowance would still be payable to state veterans cemeteries; and
WHEREAS, If a veteran passes away in a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital, nursing home, or domiciliary, or in an institution at which the individual was receiving hospital or nursing care at the expense of the United States at the time of death, VA will pay for the cost of transporting the remains to the place of burial; however, a veteran who passes away in a State Veterans Home is not allowed transportation cost for the remains to the place of burial by VA; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, By The American Legion in National Convention assembled in Salt Lake City, Utah, August 29, 30, 31, 2006, That The American Legion support the establishment of additional national and state veterans cemeteries and columbaria wherever a need for them is apparent and petition Congress to provide required operations and construction funding to ensure VA burial in a national or state veterans cemetery is a realistic option for veterans and their eligible dependents; and, be it further
RESOLVED, That The American Legion support restoration of a veterans burial allowance and an increase in the burial benefit; along with restoration of the pre-1990 Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act criteria to provide eligibility for a government-furnished headstone or marker allowance and restoration of the burial plot allowance for all honorably discharged veterans; and, be it finally
RESOLVED, That The American Legion support action to provide that when an eligible veteran dies in a state veterans hospital or nursing home, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall pay for the cost of transporting the remains to the place of burial as determined by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.