The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) operates 131 national cemeteries in 39 states, where nearly four million Americans, including veterans from every war and conflict in US history — from the Revolutionary War to the conflicts we are now engaged with in various countries — are buried on over 19,000 acres. For veterans, the national cemeteries offer free burial options and benefits, such as a gravesite, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a government headstone or marker, a burial flag, and a presidential memorial certificate. Unfortunately for veterans who lived in rural areas of the country, receiving these benefits often meant being buried over 100 miles away, in the nearest national cemetery. But not anymore!
The VA plans to open eight National Veterans Burial Grounds under the Rural Initiative plan. The VA will build small National Veterans Burial Grounds within existing public or private cemeteries in rural areas where the unserved Veteran population is 25,000 or less within a 75-mile radius. New Burial Ground sites are Fargo, North Dakota; Rhinelander, Wisconsin; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Laurel, Montana; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Cedar City, Utah; Calais, Maine; and Elko, Nevada.
“VA is committed to improving service to veterans in rural areas,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “Through an innovative partnership with existing cemeteries, we will be able to ensure burial for veterans in more locations that meet the high standards of national shrines.”
For an example of how this project will bless the lives of veterans and loved ones in Cheyenne, WY, the national veteran’s cemetery closest to Cheyenne is 110 miles away in the Denver area.
“A veteran’s cemetery in Cheyenne would make things easier for relatives of Wyoming veterans,” said Terry Shepard, club manager for the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1881 in Cheyenne. “It would be great to have a cemetery here,” Shepard said. “It will make it a lot easier for those who want to say goodbye.”
The reader of this article may be wondering why nothing was done earlier to provide for veterans living in rural areas. Wyoming officials and veterans groups have frequently lobbied for a veterans cemetery in Cheyenne since Senator Mike Enzi attempted to introduce legislation in 2002 to designate money for a national veteran’s cemetery in Cheyenne. But for one reason or another, it was not approved until recently.
VA is still evaluating suitable sites for its Rural Initiative. In Laurel, Montana, VA is exploring with local officials the feasibility of acquiring a portion of the Yellowstone County Veterans Cemetery to establish as a National Veterans Burial Ground. VA officials will announce further details about the eight new burial grounds as information becomes available. This new initiative will make VA burial options available to more than 136,000 veterans and their eligible dependents.
As a veteran, you may be asking yourself, do I qualify to receive these benefits? What about my family? Who gets buried in a VA national cemetery? Veterans with a discharge issued under conditions other than dishonorable, their spouses and eligible dependent children can be buried in any of the 131 VA national cemeteries. Other burial benefits available for all eligible veterans, regardless of whether they are buried in a national cemetery or private cemetery, include, as mentioned before, a burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and a government headstone or marker. Burial benefits available for spouses and dependents buried in a national cemetery include burial with the veteran, perpetual care, and the spouse or dependents name and date of birth and death will be inscribed on the veteran’s headstone, at no cost to the family. Eligible spouses and dependents may be buried, even if they predecease the veteran.
Make sure as you prepare to receive these benefits, that you make your family aware of where all your discharge papers are, and all necessary documents, so at the time of your passing, your family will be prepared to contact the VA and funeral services. Do note that the burial benefits only cover certain situations, and that any extra burial services that you require may cost extra. Be aware of all benefits you are signed up to receive and plan accordingly by briefing your family on all benefits.