U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer on Thursday called on the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to complete final acquisitions for two 60-acre and 77-acre parcels in Pembroke and then swiftly act to begin construction of the New Western New York National Veterans Cemetery.
Currently, the VA parcel is 132 acres devoted to a veterans' cemetery. The acquisitions of the two new parcels would effectively double the size of the cemetery and would clear the way for construction of a new veterans’ cemetery in Genesee County, which will be the first and only of its kind in the Buffalo-Rochester area and will save thousands of military families from having to travel upward of 100 miles to visit their loved ones at what is now the closest vet cemetery in Bath, NY.
Schumer said it is vital the VA complete these acquisitions and commit to begin the cemetery’s construction this year.
“The acquisition of these two land parcels clears the way for the construction of the newest veterans’ cemetery in Pembroke. Making this cemetery a reality has been and remains one of my top priorities, and I will keep fighting to ensure that this project comes to fruition,” Senator Schumer said.
“It is now time for the VA to do its part to clear these final roadblocks so we can move to the construction phase ASAP; this cemetery's construction guarantees Western New York’s military veterans will have the proper burial, at a site close to the homes, families, and the very communities they dedicated their lives to defend and serve.”
Schumer explained the new cemetery design calls for the main entrance to be built through this 60-acre parcel of land so that veterans, their families, and cemetery visitors can access the cemetery from Indian Falls Road, rather than via the busy State Route 77 corridor. Schumer said both parcels are located adjacent to the existing 132-acre cemetery site were purchased by the VA in 2014.
The VA had advised last year that before the VA’s could acquire these two parcels needed to begin the cemetery’s construction, a buried gas line that traversed the 60- and 77-acre parcels needed to be plugged and then relocated. With this gas line work completed in December 2017, Schumer said it is time for the VA to finalize these acquisitions so that cemetery construction can begin this year.
Schumer added the 60- and 77-acre parcel will greatly expand the cemetery’s operational life and enable the VA to construct a cemetery more aligned with the Department’s initial vision for a 200-acre site. Per the timeline provided by the VA to Schumer’s office in June 2017, the VA aimed to begin construction approximately six months after purchase of the parcels, followed by the opening of the early turnover area for burials a year later in 2019.
Schumer has long fought to make this project a reality. In 2016, Schumer announced that following his push that $36 million in federal funding for the construction phase of the cemetery in Western New York had been included in the final continuing resolution (CR) package.
In December 2015, Schumer launched his push to get the VA to include this critical funding in the VA’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget request, to safeguard against needless delays between phases. In February 2016, Schumer announced the inclusion of this funding in the previous President’s Budget Request was a good sign for Rochester, Buffalo and all of Western New York. Schumer vowed to continue pushing for this critical federal funding to be included in the final appropriations bill. In April 2016, Schumer announced that, following his push, the $36 million in federal funding had been included in the final Senate Military Construction Appropriations Bill for the construction phase of the cemetery.
Schumer said the establishment of the nation’s newest Veterans’ Cemetery in Western New York is a long-sought and well-deserved opportunity to honor the more than 96,000 veterans and family members in this region who will have a proper military burial at a site close to their homes, families, and communities they served and defended.
This veterans’ cemetery will be the first and only of its kind in the Buffalo-Rochester area and will save thousands of military families from having to travel more than 100 miles in some cases to visit their loved ones at what is now the closest veterans' cemetery in Bath, NY. Schumer said the initial difficulties in acquiring this Western New York property took an unusually long four years and, that the final acquisitions will be needed for construction to begin.
According to guidance provided by the VA on cemetery development timelines, it can typically take up to 24 months to complete the cemetery master planning and design process. Following the completion of that phase, the construction phase typically requires 24-30 months to compete, with early-use burial areas made available approximately 12 months after the start of construction.
A list of Schumer’s actions appears below:
· In February 2016, Schumer announced that the just-released President’s Budget for Fiscal Year 2017 included $36 million in funding for the construction phase of the newest National Veterans’ Cemetery in Pembroke.
· In December 2015, Schumer launched his push to secure federal funding for the construction phase of the cemetery.
· In May 2014, Schumer announced that the VA had selected a site for the long-awaited Western New York Veterans’ Cemetery on a 132-acre parcel at 1232 Indian Falls Road in the Town of Pembroke, Genesee County.
· This was the culmination of years of work beginning in 2009 when Schumer, together with various veterans' groups, led the charge to bring a much-needed veterans’ cemetery to Western New York arguing that a lack of a national veterans’ cemetery within a 75-mile radius of Buffalo and Rochester meant that it was long-past time for the 96,000 underserved veterans and family members living in Western New York to have a fitting burial option closer to home.
· In 2010, the VA responded and announced it would establish a new veteran’s cemetery in Western New York. An updated VA policy dictated the construction of a national cemetery in areas where there are at least 80,000 veterans that reside at least 75-miles from an existing cemetery. In Western New York, there are 96,000 who live up to 100 miles away from the closest National Veterans Cemetery in Bath, NY.
· In March 2012, after the VA failed to find suitable land to purchase following two separate solicitation attempts, Schumer wrote to then-VA Secretary Shinseki to urge that the VA put forth a clear timeline and path forward to avoid another protracted process that could come up empty. In response, the VA dispatched personnel to Western New York to conduct site visits at several sites in WNY, issued a final solicitation for sites, and developed several candidate sites for evaluation, of which one was the 132-acre site in Pembroke that the VA subsequently acquired.
· In April 2013, Schumer organized a meeting at Daemen College with local veterans and VA officials to update Veterans on the VA’s timeline and in order for veterans to provide input to the VA.
· In Sept 2013, Schumer wrote to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (SHPO) to urge the agency to complete an archeological cultural-resource study required in order for the VA to complete the required approvals needed to close on the purchase of the preferred Indian Falls Road site in Pembroke.
· In May 2014, Schumer announced that the results of the archeological cultural-resource study determined a finding of “no significant impacts,” thus allowing the VA to move forward on the purchase of the preferred site on Indiana Falls Road later that month.
· In July 2014, Schumer called on the VA to move forward on plans to acquire the adjoining 60-acre parcel that abuts the current 132-acre site. This would immediately make the cemetery nearly 50-percent larger, increase capacity, and provide better access to the cemetery for veterans’ funeral processions and visitors.
The 132-acre site on Indian Falls Road in Pembroke is located approximately 30 miles from Buffalo and 48 miles from Rochester. The cemetery will provide a fitting burial option to approximately 96,000 currently underserved veterans and family members living in Western New York. Veterans with a qualifying discharge, their spouses, and eligible dependent children may be buried in a VA national cemetery.
Also eligible are military personnel who die on active duty, their spouses and eligible dependents. Burial benefits available for all eligible Veterans, regardless of whether they are buried in a national cemetery or a private cemetery, include a burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and a government headstone or marker.
Schumer said more than 96,000 veterans and their families across Western New York from Rochester and the Finger Lakes Region to Buffalo deserve to have this cemetery constructed as soon as possible and without further impediments or unnecessary delays. Schumer said the VA must do its part to overcome the final impediments to this process for the benefit of veterans and their families who call Western New York home.
A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary appears below:
Dear VA Secretary Shulkin,
I write to request that the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) work to overcome a last remaining impediment to construction of the new Western New York National Veterans Cemetery. Namely, I urge you to complete the acquisition of the 60 acre and the 77 acre parcels in Pembroke, NY that are located adjacent to the existing 132 acre cemetery site purchased by the Department in 2014 and then swiftly act to begin construction this year. As you know, buried gas line work was requisite to VA’s acquisition of these parcels. I understand that this work was completed in December 2017, and I urge you to finalize these acquisitions and commit to begin the cemetery’s construction this year.
The cemetery design calls for the main entrance of the new cemetery to be built through this 60 acre parcel of land so that veterans, their families, and cemetery visitors can access the cemetery from Indian Falls Road, rather than via the busy State Route 77 corridor. Additionally, the 60 acre parcel and 77 acre parcel will greatly expand the cemetery’s operational life and enable the VA to construct a cemetery which more aligned with the Department’s initial vision for a 200-acre site. According to a timeline the Department provided to my office in June 2017, the VA aimed to begin construction approximately six months after purchase of the 60 and 77 acre parcels, followed by the opening of the early turnover area for burials a year later in 2019.
More than 96,000 veterans and their families across Western New York from Rochester and the Finger Lakes Region to Buffalo deserve to have this cemetery constructed as soon as possible without unnecessary delay. I urge you to immediately overcome the final impediments to this process for the benefit of veterans across the region. I thank you in advance for your attention to this matter and appreciate your consideration of my request.
Charles E. Schumer