EXETER, RI – Rows of tomb stones at the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery honor veterans and their dependents (such as spouses or children) who are laid to rest in Exeter.  Those buried in the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery may have been active duty, in the reserves, or retired, and they come from all branches of the service, all ages, and all walks of life.

In an effort to honor the legacy of those who served and provide Rhode Island veterans with a fitting final resting place, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse today announced that the state of Rhode Island is slated to receive $5,050,000 in federal funding to expand capacity and enhance the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter.  This federal grant, which is awarded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), will provide for upgrades including landscaping, including enhancements to the irrigation system, infrastructure, and the construction of over 2,000 columbarium niches.  A columbarium is an above-ground structure that stores cremation urns and personal mementos.  More of these spaces are planned as cremation becomes more popular.  Each niche can accommodate two urns for spouses who wish to have their remains placed together.

The proposed project will develop approximately 2.11 acres of the cemetery’s 190 undeveloped acres.  The VA has placed the project on its FY2024 Priority List and will pay the cost associated with the expansion.

“This federal funding will help upgrade and expand these hallowed grounds.  I am thankful that President Biden and VA Secretary McDonough recognized the importance of this special place for Rhode Island’s veterans and their family members.  More space is needed to provide a final resting place for our veterans and their families.  This federal funding will lay the groundwork to expand the cemetery’s capacity,” said Senator Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees all federal spending for veterans cemeteries.  Reed helped pass the Veterans Cemetery Grants Improvement Act, as part of the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020, which increased the maximum award for state cemeteries to help states cover the increasing costs of operating and maintaining veteran cemeteries. “Our veterans have served with honor and distinction.  We have a duty to honor them and ensure this cemetery remains a fitting, special place to reflect on their sacrifice.”

“When a Rhode Island veteran passes away, they deserve a final resting place befitting their honorable and selfless service to the nation,” said Senator Whitehouse.  “The Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery is such a place, and this federal funding will help expand its capacity and improve the grounds for families who come to reflect.”

When the cemetery first opened in 1976 it covered about 90 acres.  Today, the Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery in Exeter spans about 280 acres – much of it undeveloped.  The cemetery is a final resting place for Rhode Island veterans who have served their country honorably during wartime and their eligible dependents. The grounds of the cemetery include a number of memorials and monuments dedicated to veterans of specific wars and conflicts.

Over 25,000 veterans and their eligible dependents are interred at Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery and the cemetery currently averages over 1,100 interments per year.

Reed and Whitehouse note that with the recent passage of the minibus appropriations package, Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery has been placed atop the VA’s FY2024 Priority List of State and Tribal Government Construction Grant list. 

Any Rhode Island resident, or former resident, who served in the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps of the Coast Guard, pursuant to Title 10 of the United States Code for a period of not less than two years, and was discharged under honorable conditions, is eligible for burial at the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter.

Nationwide, the National Cemetery Administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs operates 155 national cemeteries and 34 soldiers' lots and monument sites and provides grants to 122 veterans’ cemeteries in 49 states.  More than five million Americans, including veterans of every war and conflict, are buried in VA cemeteries around the country.