WASHINGTON — With the federal government in the midst of a major expansion of burial services for veterans, Rep. Dina Titus asked the Department of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday why Nevada remains one of only a few states without a national cemetery.
A VA official told a House panel that the agency considers Southern Nevada veterans “adequately served” by the state-run Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City.
Titus, D-Nev., called it “a very nice little state cemetery” but said it is a distance from Las Vegas “and doesn’t accommodate the 170,000 veterans who live in the Las Vegas area.”
Eleven states do not have a national cemetery, and six of them are Western states “that have been overlooked for too long by the National Cemetery Administration,” Titus said.
Nevada is the state with the largest veterans population — 301,000 — that is not served by a national cemetery, she said.
Glenn Powers, a VA deputy undersecretary with the National Cemetery Administration, told a House veterans affairs subcommittee that the VA is carrying out one of the largest expansions of the burial system since the Civil War. Eighteen burial grounds were dedicated over the past 20 years, and 18 more are planned by the end of the decade.
National cemeteries are planned for central Florida; Tallahassee, Fla.; Omaha, Neb.; southern Colorado; and western New York. The VA also plans “national veterans burial grounds,” smaller units to be placed in rural areas in eight states, including one in Elko that raised Titus’ eyebrows. She questioned whether Elko was home to enough veterans to qualify.
“As I understand, these are supposed to be sites that serve 25,000 veterans within a 75-mile radius,” Titus said. “Elko hasn’t got but 19,000 people in the city, and about 4,000 of those are veterans. And if you’ve ever been to Elko, you know there’s not much within a 75-mile range of there.”
Powers responded, “I’ve never been to Elko,” to which Titus said, “That’s what I feared.”
Titus said she worried that placing a VA burial unit in Elko may end up pushing back chances for Southern Nevada to gain a national cemetery.
“Do you want me to go back and tell Nevada veterans you can have a state cemetery or you can have a rural initiative if you can get your family up to Elko?” Titus asked Powers. “What can Nevada veterans do to get a national cemetery where the population exists?”
Titus said afterward that a national cemetery has the advantage of prestige and a commitment from the VA to maintain it.
“The cemetery in Boulder City is very nice; but if you were to ask people in Las Vegas, going over the hill (to Boulder City) is like a big distance; it is not right there in town. Even though the mileage may not be that far, psychologically the distance is pretty great. Veterans just shouldn’t be victims of geography.”
Both of Nevada’s state-operated veterans cemeteries are operated with grants from the VA. The second one is in Fernley.