Representative Antonio Delgado (NY-19), joined by Reps. Don Young, (AK-AL), Elise Stefanik (NY-21), and Brian Mast (FL-18) introduced the bipartisan Fairness for Local Veteran Cemeteries Act, legislation authorizing the VA to issue grants to counties for the establishment, expansion, and improvement of veterans’ cemeteries. The idea for the legislation came from officials at the Ulster County Veteran Services Agency, who informed Rep. Delgado that the wording of existing law makes them ineligible for federal funding available to state-run veteran cemeteries. New York, Florida, Alaska, and Oregon are the only four states whose veteran cemeteries are run by individual counties or county-equivalents – Rep. Delgado’s bill would ensure that counties in these states are made eligible for grants to cover the maintenance and operation costs of veteran cemeteries.
“In speaking with Steve Massee, I was shocked to learn that a technical error in our laws prevents Ulster County and other counties in New York and across the country from accessing much-needed federal funding for its veterans’ cemeteries. This prohibition severely cripples counties in states like New York that do not have state-operated veterans’ cemeteries, which is why I worked with my colleagues across the aisle and introduced a bill that fixes this problem and ensures local veterans’ cemeteries are properly funded,” said Representative Antonio Delgado. “Upstate Veterans answered the call to serve and it is our solemn duty to ensure they receive the benefits they’ve earned. The first piece of legislation I introduced in Congress provided support to veteran families, and today I am pleased to continue those efforts through the Fairness for Local Veteran Cemeteries Act.”
“I commend Rep. Delgado for launching this legislation. With its passage, New York veterans will gain long overdue access to their fair share of federal grant funds for local veteran cemeteries. The State of New York does not have a veteran cemetery, and many counties struggle to raise the capital funding to start one. Federal VA grants already exist for this very purpose, and thanks to this legislation, New York counties will no longer be precluded from applying. On behalf of all local veterans I thank Rep. Delgado for embracing the important mission of burial with honor for all eligible veterans,” said Captain Steven J. Massee (USN-retired), Ulster County Veteran Services.
“America’s veterans have sacrificed so much to ensure that our country can remain safe and free,” said Representative Don Young. “It is unconscionable that various counties across our great nation have not been able to apply for veterans’ cemetery funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs because of needless regulatory prohibitions. We must act so that America’s veterans have the option of choosing a veterans’ cemetery as their final resting place. Ahead of Veterans Day, I am proud to join Congressmen Antonio Delgado and Brian Mast and Congresswoman Elise Stefanik on this important effort to honor our veterans and their selfless service to our nation.”
“I have the privilege of representing a district that is home to more veterans than any district in New York State,” said Representative Elise Stefanik. “In Clinton County in my district, land was generously donated for a veterans’ cemetery, but unfortunately no funding was available. This long-overdue legislation directs the Secretary of the VA to provide funding to counties to establish and improve veterans’ cemeteries to honor their distinguished sacrifice and dedication to our nation.”
“Those who serve our country make the choice to dedicate their lives to a cause much greater than themselves. While we may never be able to fully repay these men and women for their sacrifices, we can absolutely do more to ensure their final resting place is alongside their brothers and sisters in arms.” Representative Brian Mast continued, “honoring those who served and remembering their dedication to our nation – that’s what this bill is all about.”
The Fairness for Local Veteran Cemeteries Act lifts the statutory prohibition on counties seeking funds to establish, improve, or expand veterans’ cemeteries. Alaska, Florida, Oregon, and New York are the only states with county-operated, as opposed to state-operated, veterans’ cemeteries. However, the Veteran Cemetery Grants Program is currently only authorized to issue grants to states, making these counties ineligible for funding. The Fairness for Local Veteran Cemeteries Act bill fixes this problem, allowing counties to apply for veterans’ cemetery funding provided that the state does not have any state-operated cemeteries established in its jurisdiction.