HONORING AMERICA’S FALLEN HEROES: AN UPDATE ON OUR NATIONAL CEMETERIES
March 08, 2012
RAYMOND C. KELLEY, DIRECTOR
NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE SERVICE
VETERANS OF FOREIGN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES
COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON DISABILITY ASSISTANCE & MEMORIAL
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
WITH RESPECT TO
AMERICA’S FALLEN HEROES:
AN UPDATE ON OUR
CHAIRMAN AND MEMBERS OF THIS COMMITTEE:
behalf of the more than 2 million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of
the United States and our Auxiliaries, the VFW would like to thank this
committee for the opportunity to present our views on our National Cemeteries.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National
Cemetery Administration (NCA) currently maintains more than 3 million graves at
131 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico. Of these cemeteries, 71
will be open to all interment; 19 will accept only cremated remains and family
members of those already interred; and 41 will only perform interments of
family members in the same gravesite as a previously deceased family member.
The NCA also maintains 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites. All told, the NCA
manages 20,021 acres, half of which are developed.
Today, there are nearly 22.4 million living veterans
who have served our nation as far back as World War II and every conflict and
peacetime era since. However, it is estimated that approximately 653,000
veterans died in 2010. VA interred more than 111,000 veterans in 2010 and they
expect that number to slowly climb and peak at 116,000 in 2013 and maintain
that level through 2015. VA expects to maintain 400,000 more graves during that
same period of time.
The most important obligation of the NCA is to honor
the memory of America’s brave men and women who served in the armed forces.
Therefore, the purpose of these cemeteries as national shrines is one of the
NCA’s top priorities. Many of the individual cemeteries within the system are
steeped in history, and the monuments, markers, grounds, and related memorial
tributes represent the very foundation of the United States. With this
understanding, the grounds, including monuments and individual sites of interment,
represent a national treasure that deserves to be protected and cherished.
VFW would like to acknowledge the dedication and commitment of the NCA staff
who continue to provide the highest quality of service to veterans and their
keep a finger on the pulse of how well they are serving veterans across the
agency, each year VA publishes a Performance and Accountability Report. There
are 16 performance measures that fall under NCA. These measures range from how
quickly gravesites are marked after interment to how many people would
recommend a national cemetery to a veteran in need. More than half of these
measures come very close or perform better than their strategic targets.
are four of these performance measures that the VFW would like to discuss
today. First is accessibility to veterans’ cemeteries. NCA has made a
commitment to provide burial options for 94 percent of all veterans living in
the United States. They are currently at 89 percent. Their success in providing
these options is based on them having a solid metric that account for where
there is or will be burial needs and where NCA doesn’t have an accessible
cemetery. In FY2012, NCA reduced the veteran population threshold from 170,000
veterans to 80,000 veterans living within a 75 mile radius as a new guideline
to establish cemetery placement. This will allow NCA to provide National
Cemetery access to an additional 500,000 veterans.
has also been investing in state cemetery grants program, and between 1998 and
2010, 75 state veterans’ cemeteries have been established. The NCA is currently
holding 104 state cemetery grant applications, 61 of which the state or Nation
or Tribe has committed their portion of the funds. The NCA will have to invest
$152 million in architectural and engineering funds to meet their obligated
match for these state cemeteries. This is cost effective way to ensure that
areas that don’t contain the threshold of veterans will have burial options.
These states have made a commitment to veterans; VA must match that commitment
and fund these cemeteries as quickly as possible. The VFW, in partnership with
the Independent Budget, is requesting
appropriations of $51 million for FY2013 to accommodate the grant program.
latest strategy to provide access to veteran’s cemeteries is to purchase land
from private cemeteries in rural areas where there are less than 25,000
veterans in 75 radius, and who don’t have a national or state cemetery option.
This will provide burial options for an estimated 136,000 veterans. There are
eight states that currently meet this criteria; Idaho, Montana, Utah, Maine,
North Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming and Nevada. These are all very positive steps
and as they move forward with closing these access gaps, Congress must be
prepared to fund these projects.
next two performance measures can be combined. The percent of headstones,
marker and niche covers that are clean and free of debris and the percent of
headstones and marker that are at the proper height and alignment. These two
measures represent the aesthetic appearance of our national cemeteries. In
2002, the Independent Study on Improvements to Veterans Cemeteries identified
nearly 1,000 deficiencies nationwide that will need to be corrected to reach
their goal of improve cemetery appearance. This is not a static number of
deficiencies, as some deficiencies are fixed, others, due to climate and time,
become in need of correction. A lack of funding has led to this decline in
the past few years, NCA has done a commendable job of addressing these
deficiencies by taking funds from its Operational and Maintenance budget, but
targeted funding is the only way NCA will be able to reach its strategic goals. The goal for these two performance measures are
95 percent and 90 percent, however, they are currently at 82 percent and 73
percent respectively. That is why the VFW, in partnership with the Independent Budget, believes that NCA’s
Operational and Maintenance budget should be increased by $20 million per year
until their goals are reached. Currently, NCA estimates that $208 million will
have to be invested to eliminate the appearance gaps.
fourth issue of concern is the capital infrastructure of NCA. The VFW believes
NCA is a model administration, not only within VA but throughout the
government. However, without proper resources it will continue to fall victim
of VA’s glaring concern, deteriorating infrastructure. Just like the rest of
VA’s infrastructure, NCA’s buildings are deteriorating. Between 2010 and 2011,
NCA’s annual Facilities Condition Assessment (FCA) reported a 10 percent
decline, from 84 percent to 74 percent in what is considered “acceptable”
conditions for their structures. It will take an investment of more than $62.5
million to fill all the condition gaps that have currently been identified. To
continue to put off repairing VA’s infrastructure issues is irresponsible. VA
and Congress must make a commitment to improve VA’s infrastructure, and that
commitment starts with increased funding.
Mr. Chairman, this
concludes my testimony and I will be happy to answer any question you, or the
Committee may have
Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration Fact Sheet (July, 2010).
FY 2011 Budget
Submission Summary Vol. III. P. 1A-6
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