U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to expeditiously complete the cultural resource study that must be performed on a potential veteran cemetery site, before the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can choose to establish and construct a national veterans’ cemetery in Western New York.
The VA was in the process of performing due diligence on a proposed site on Indian Falls Road when they discovered the need to do a more in-depth archeological study, to be overseen and reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), in order to finalize the selection. The cultural resource survey is the third phase of the archeological process, and concludes whether land contains historical artifacts and if so, how they must be addressed.
Once the study has been reviewed and a determination made by SHPO, the VA will have the information needed to proceed to their final site decision. Schumer noted that with a lack of a national veterans’ cemetery within a 75-mile radius, and hundreds of thousands of veterans living in the region, the time is long past to establish a national veterans’ cemetery in Western New York.
“It is time that hundreds of thousands of deserving veterans from Buffalo to Rochester and beyond are afforded a site for proper military burial near their home in Western New York. The delay has gone on too long, but the end is in sight: I am focused on breaking through this hurdle in order to get to a final site decision,” Schumer said. “The State Historical Preservation Office should swiftly complete the review of this archeological study so that a decision can be made posthaste, and so that our dedicated veterans can have a final resting place worthy of their service. Western New York veterans have a proud tradition of military service, and I’m going to keep pushing the VA to move full speed ahead and offer my support to knock down any barriers that may stand in the way of establishing this cemetery.”
For the past three years, the VA has been unsuccessful in reaching an agreement with property owners in order to purchase land for establishment of a National Veterans Cemetery. After the SHPO’s review and determination, the VA will be able to move forward with the selection of one of the final three candidate locations.
The cultural resources study includes taking subsurface samples of the land, and thus can only be performed between harvest and planting of crops; which is the reason the study has been so far delayed. The potential site in question is a 132-acre farm located at Route 77 and Indian Falls Road in Pembroke. The VA is also considering two other sites in the area.
Schumer has long argued that it is critical for the veterans’ cemetery location to be decided on and for acquisition to begin immediately. Half of New York Veterans are 65 years of age or older, and now is the time to start planning for the future of those veterans, and ensuring that they are treated with the honor they deserve. Schumer has heard from local veterans groups that veterans in Western New York desprately want to be buried in a national shrine, but don’t want to force their families to travel long distances to visit, potentially at great hardship to do so.
Today, there are more than 22 million veterans who are eligible for the honor of burial in a National Cemetery. Veterans with discharges other than dishonorable, their spouses and dependent children may be eligible for burial in a VA national cemetery. Those who die on active duty may also be buried in a national cemetery.
Senator Schumer has joined with Western New York vets for years in calling for the VA to locate the first federal veterans’ cemetery in the region. Around 2009-2010, the VA updated its burial policy, which changed the threshold of veterans required to construct a new national cemetery to 80,000 veterans within 75 miles of a proposed site. With this new policy, the region was more than qualified, there are nearly 100,000 veterans in Orleans, Niagara, Erie and Chautauqua counties alone, approximately 200,000 veterans in the Rochester region, and additional veterans who live more than 75 miles from the nearest available National Cemetery in Bath, NY. Schumer has fought to keep the VA moving forward in finding a site for this cemetery ever since, and has pushed the process through a variety of roadblocks.
In particular, throughout the process, Schumer has urged the VA to be more transparent about its selection timeline and site preferences. As a result of the Senator’s efforts, the VA has released information about the process to the local community, and after a personal meeting in Schumer’s D.C. office in 2012, committed to an expedited timeline. Schumer vowed to continue his efforts to speed up the selection process and is now urging the State Historic Preservation Office to expedite its archeological study so that the VA can finally close on a property.