WASHINGTON, DC – As the nation prepares to commemorate Memorial Day and honor military personnel who died in service to our nation, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) is calling on Congress to take action to ensure the final resting place of many veterans remains in top shape and reflects America’s commitment to supporting veterans and their families.

Reed today joined with U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-MT), Mike Rounds (R-SD), and John Hoeven (R-ND) in introducing bipartisan legislation to help states cover the increasing costs of operating and maintaining veteran cemeteries.

Under current law, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is authorized to award a maximum of $5 million for Operations and Maintenance Program grant applications per fiscal year—funding used to cover costs associated with upkeep of veterans interred in state cemeteries.  The Veterans Cemetery Grants Improvement Act would increase VA’s funding cap from $5 million to $10 million annually to better assist states, territories, and tribal governments in covering the increasing costs of operating and maintaining state-run veteran cemeteries.

“We owe our veterans a debt of gratitude that can never be fully repaid.  Veteran cemeteries are hallowed grounds that reflect our commitment to all who served.  This legislation would help provide a small, much needed down payment toward helping veteran cemeteries nationwide with appropriate maintenance and upkeep,” said Senator Reed, a member of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees federal spending on veterans programs.  “Our veterans have served with great distinction and it is imperative that we honor their sacrifices. This legislation will help enhance the final resting place for those who served.”

The Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Exeter spans 280 acres and serves as a final resting place for over 25,240 Rhode Island veterans who have served their country honorably and more than 12,600 of their eligible dependents.  The grounds of the cemetery include 31 memorials dedicated to veterans of specific wars and conflicts, honoring those service members who are interred beyond these hallowed grounds.

In 2007, Reed helped secure over $5.7 million to expand and renovate the cemetery, including construction of the Administration and Honor Guard building, a public information center and restroom access kiosk, over one thousand new cremation niches, and the widening of the main entrance road.   In 2012, Reed secured an additional $1.1 million in federal funding to enhance the day-to-day operations of the cemetery. 

To comply with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) National Cemetery Administration map standards, the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery undertook a detailed topographic and boundary survey to develop a masterplan for the site, which includes room for future improvement and expansion, and an interactive geographic information system (GIS) database to show burial information and locations.

Nationally, the National Cemetery Administration maintains 142 national cemeteries in 40 states (and Puerto Rico) as well as 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites. Additionally, many states have established state veterans cemeteries.  Even though they may have been established or improved with government funds through VA’s Veterans Cemetery Grants Program, state veterans cemeteries are run solely by the states.