Today Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28) announced the passage by the full U.S. House of the Fiscal Year 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs House Appropriations bill. The bill includes language by the congressman that could provide for new burial places for veterans in Texas’ 28th Congressional District. The bill was approved by the House Thursday on a vote of 295-129.
The language Cuellar introduced in the bill encourages the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to look at the possibility of private donors offering land to establish new independent veterans cemeteries or satellites of existing ones. The VA aims to provide a burial place for all veterans within 75 miles of where they live. However, 8 percent of veterans across the country fall outside this range. Although eligible veterans can receive benefits from the VA for burial in non-VA cemeteries, the congressman would like to see local veterans have their own dedicated resting place.
By donating land as a satellite cemetery, the 28th District could bypass the competitive application process for VA cemeteries. Currently, in order for a VA cemetery to be built, the Texas Land Commissioner must apply to the VA, with the blessing of the locality, and compete with other similarly-minded communities. With a number of plots of land already set aside by the state to be converted into veterans cemeteries, the process could be long and cumbersome. Designating a plot of land as a satellite of an existing cemetery would eliminate this problem.
Aside from the distance issue, cost is another factor. Currently, the VA has a priority list of $247 million worth of projects pending to establish new cemeteries or rehabilitate existing ones, but only $46 million was allocated in FY 2016. Areas in Texas with the largest veteran populations have been prioritized, so Congressman Cuellar has also included language that encourages the use of public-private partnerships to help pay the costs of construction and upkeep of new cemeteries.
“Our veterans have made the ultimate sacrifice by fighting for their country, so we should make sure that they are well taken care of after they return home,” Congressman Cuellar said. “Making it easier to choose to be buried close to home and close to their loved ones is the least we can do for our area’s veterans. With the passage of this bill by the full House, we are closer to making that happen.”
In addition, Congressman Cuellar included language that would direct the VA to report on how it is reducing the number of veterans without reasonable access to burial.
To read the language the congressman inserted into the appropriations bill, please click here.