The National Cemetery Administration The Department of Veterans Affairs by whereitsat


									The National

The Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration (NCA) honors veter-
ans with final resting places that commemorate their service to our nation. The Independent
Budget veterans service organizations (IBVSOs) would like to acknowledge the dedication
and commitment of the NCA staff who continue to provide the highest quality of service to
veterans and their families despite funding challenges, aging equipment, and the increasing
workload of new cemetery activations.

The NCA currently maintains more than 2.7 million gravesites at 124 national cemeteries in
39 states and Puerto Rico. At the end of 2007, 66 cemeteries will be open to all interments;
16 will accept only cremated remains and family members of those already interred; and 43
will only perform interments of family members in the same gravesite as a previously deceased
family member.

VA estimates that about 27 million veterans are alive today. They include veterans from World
War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the conflicts in
Afghanistan and Iraq, and the global war on terrorism, as well as peacetime veterans. With the
anticipated opening of the new national cemeteries, annual interments are projected to
increase from approximately 102,000 in 2006 to 117,000 in 2009. It is expected that one in
every six of these veterans will request burial in a national cemetery.

                                      INDEPENDENT BUDGET • FISCAL YEAR 2008

              NCA ACCOUNT                                                      Initiative” to restore and improve the condition and
                                                                               character of NCA cemeteries as part of the FY 2008
                                                                               operations budget. Volume 2 of the independent
              The Independent Budget recommends an operations                  study provides a systemwide comprehensive review of
              budget of $218 million for the NCA for fiscal year               the conditions at 119 national cemeteries. It identifies
              2008 so it can meet the increasing demands of inter-             928 projects across the country for gravesite renova-
              ments, gravesite maintenance, and related essential              tion, repair, upgrade, and maintenance. Headstones
              elements of cemetery operations.                                 and markers must be cleaned, realigned, and set.
                                                                               Stone surfaces of columbaria require cleaning, caulk-
              The NCA is responsible for five primary missions:                ing, and grouting, and the surrounding walkways
                                                                               must be maintained. Grass, shrubbery, and trees in
              1.   to inter, upon request, the remains of eligible             burial areas and other land must receive regular care.
                   veterans and family members and to permanently              Additionally, cemetery infrastructure, i.e., buildings,
                   maintain gravesites;                                        grounds, walks, and drives must be repaired as
                                                                               needed. According to the study, these project recom-
              2.   to mark graves of eligible persons in national,             mendations were made on the basis of the existing
                   state, or private cemeteries upon appropriate               condition of each cemetery after taking into account
                   application;                                                the cemetery’s age, its burial activity, burial options
                                                                               and maintenance programs.
              3.   to administer the state grant program in the estab-
                   lishment, expansion, or improvement of state                The IBVSOs were encouraged that the NCA earmarked
                   veterans cemeteries;                                        $28 million for the National Shrine Commitment for
                                                                               fiscal year 2007. The NCA has done an outstanding job
              4.   to award a presidential certificate and furnish a           thus far in improving the appearance of our national
                   United States flag to deceased veterans; and                cemeteries, but we have a long way to go to get us
                                                                               where we need to be. By enacting a five-year program
              5.   to maintain national cemeteries as national shrines         with dedicated funds and an ambitious schedule, the
                   sacred to the honor and memory of those interred            national cemetery system can fully serve all veterans
                   or memorialized.                                            and their families with the utmost dignity, respect, and
              The national cemetery system continues to be seriously
              challenged. Though there has been progress made over             In addition to the management of national cemeteries,
              the years, the NCA is still struggling to remove decades         the NCA has responsibility for the Memorial Program
              of blemishes and scars from military burial grounds              Service. The Memorial Program Service provides last-
              across the country. Visitors to many national cemeter-           ing memorials for the graves of eligible veterans and
              ies are likely to encounter sunken graves, misaligned            honors their service through Presidential Memorial
              and dirty grave markers, deteriorating roads, spotty             Certificates. Public Laws 107-103 and 107-330 allow
              turf and other patches of decay that have been accumu-           for a headstone or marker for the graves of veterans
              lating for decades. If the NCA is to continue its                buried in private cemeteries who died on or after
              commitment to ensure national cemeteries remain                  September 11, 2001. Prior to this change, the NCA
              dignified and respectful settings that honor deceased            could provide this service only to those buried in
              veterans and give evidence of the nation’s gratitude for         national or state cemeteries or to unmarked graves in
              their military service, there must be a comprehensive            private cemeteries.
              effort to greatly improve the condition, function, and
              appearance of the national cemeteries.                           The IBVSOs call on the Administration and Congress
                                                                               to provide the resources required to meet the critical
              Therefore, in accordance with “An Independent                    nature of the NCA mission and fulfill the nation’s
              Study on Improvements to Veterans Cemeteries,”                   commitment to all veterans who have served their
              which was submitted to Congress in 2002, The                     country honorably and faithfully.
              Independent Budget again recommends Congress
              establish a five-year, $250 million “National Shrine

                                 NATIONAL CEMETERY ADMINISTRATION

                                                                                                                                      NCA ACCOUNT
  FY 2008 NATIONAL CEMETERY                                                            RECOMMENDATIONS:
                                                                          Congress should provide $218 million for fiscal year
                 (Dollars in Thousands)
                                                                          2008 to offset the higher costs related to increased
                                                                          workload, additional staff needs, general inflation and
FY 2007 Administration Request . . . . . . . . $160,733                   wage increases, and an enhanced national shrine
FY 2007 IB Recommendation . . . . . . . . . $213,982                      initiative.

FY 2008 IB Recommendation                                                 Congress should include as part of the NCA appropria-
      Administrative Services . . . . . . . . . . $168,335                tion $50 million for the first stage of a $250 million
      Shrine Initiative. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $ 50,000         five-year program to restore and improve the condition
Total FY 2008 IB Recommendation . . . . . . $218,335                      and character of existing NCA cemeteries.

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                                    The State Cemetery Grants Program:
Heightened interest in the State Cemetery Grant Program (SCGP) results in stronger state partici-
        pation and complements the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) mission.

The State Cemetery Grants Program (SCGP) comple-                          States remain, as before enactment of the Veterans
ments the NCA mission to establish gravesites for                         Benefits Improvements Act of 1998, totally responsible
veterans in those areas where the NCA cannot fully                        for operations and maintenance, including additional
respond to the burial needs of veterans. Several incen-                   equipment needs following the initial federal purchase
tives are in place to assist states in this effort. For exam-             of equipment. The program allows states in concert
ple, the NCA can provide up to 100 percent of the                         with the NCA to plan, design, and construct top-
development cost for an approved cemetery project,                        notch, first-class, quality cemeteries to honor veterans.
including design, construction, and administration. In
addition, new equipment, such as mowers and back-                         To help provide reasonable access to burial options for
hoes, can be provided for new cemeteries. Since 1978,                     veterans and their eligible family members, The
the Department of Veterans Affairs has more than                          Independent Budget recommends $37 million for the
doubled acreage available and accommodated more                           SCGP for fiscal year 2008. The availability of this fund-
than a 100 percent increase in burials.                                   ing will help states establish, expand, and improve
                                                                          state-owned veterans cemeteries.
The State Cemetery Grant Program faces the challenge
of meeting a growing interest from states to provide                                   RECOMMENDATIONS:
burial services in areas that are not currently served.
The intent of the SCGP is to develop a true comple-                       Congress should fund the SCGP at a level of $37
ment to, not a replacement for, our federal system of                     million and encourage continued state participation in
national cemeteries. With the enactment of the                            the program.
Veterans Benefits Improvements Act of 1998, the NCA
has been able to strengthen its partnership with states                   Congress should recognize the increased program inter-
and increase burial services to veterans, especially those                est by the states and provide adequate funding to meet
living in less densely populated areas not currently                      planning, design, construction, and equipment expenses.
served by a national cemetery.
                                                                          The NCA should continue to effectively market
                                                                          the SCGP.

                                       INDEPENDENT BUDGET • FISCAL YEAR 2008

                                                       Veterans’ Burial Benefits:
                                      Veterans’ families do not receive adequate funeral benefits.

              There has been serious erosion in the value of burial              The nonservice-connected benefit was last adjusted in
              allowance benefits over the years. While these benefits            1978, and today it covers just 6 percent of funeral
              were never intended to cover the full costs of burial,             costs. The Independent Budget recommends increasing
              they now pay for only a small fraction of what they                the nonservice-connected benefit from $300 to
              covered in 1973, when the federal government first                 $1,270.
              started paying burial benefits for our veterans.
              In 2001 the plot allowance was increased for the first
              time in more than 28 years, to $300 from $150, which               Congress should increase the plot allowance from
              covers approximately 6 percent of funeral costs. The               $300 to $745 and expand the eligibility for the plot
              Independent Budget recommends increasing the plot                  allowance for all veterans who would be eligible for
              allowance from $300 to $745, an amount proportion-                 burial in a national cemetery, not just those who served
              ally equal to the benefit paid in 1973, and expanding              during wartime.
              the eligibility for the plot allowance to all veterans who
              would be eligible for burial in a national cemetery, not           Congress should increase the service-connected benefit
              just those who served during wartime.                              from $2,000 to $4,100.

              In the 108th Congress, the allowance for service-                  Congress should increase the nonservice-connected
              connected deaths was increased from $500 to $2,000.                benefit from $300 to $1,270.
              Prior to this adjustment, the allowance had been
              untouched since 1988. Clearly, it is time this allowance           Congress should enact legislation to adjust these burial
              was raised to make a more meaningful contribution to               benefits for inflation annually.
              the costs of burial for our veterans. The Independent
              Budget recommends increasing the service-connected
              benefit from $2,000 to $4,100, bringing it back up to
              its original proportionate level of burial costs.

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