Written by: Michael Risinit
New York is one of only 10 states not participating in a federal program that pays for a final resting place for those who served their country.
Some state lawmakers want to end that and make it possible for families and comrades to be closer to the departed veterans they miss. The only options now for a free burial for veterans and their spouses sit at the end of a long drive. For Mount Kisco American Legion Post Commander Cozz Procopis , it’s at least two hours behind the wheel to get to his father-in-law, an Army veteran, in Calverton National Cemetery at the end of Long Island.
He was among several veterans last week who came out to support an effort in Albany for the grant program administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The measure would allow New York to apply for money to build veterans cemeteries and would provide funds to bury the deceased.
“It’s a fantastic venture. God help us, it will work,” said Procopis, 81, who served aboard the USS Forrest B. Royal during the Korean War.
The Senate approved the legislation last year, but it died in the Assembly. State Sen. Greg Ball, R-Patterson, and Assemblyman Robert Castelli, R-Goldens Bridge, are trying again.
“No veteran in New York should be denied the dignity of a burial. We need to be able to guarantee them a dignified and honorable burial,” said Castelli, a Vietnam veteran.
Co-sponsors include Assemblywoman Amy Paulin of Scarsdale and Assemblyman George Latimer of Rye, both Democrats. This year’s state budget included $500,000 to pay 10 percent of the construction costs of a cemetery, with the rest coming from the federal government. Ball said he would fight to make sure the money stays in the 2012-13 budget.
The Department of Veterans Affairs would reimburse the county up to $700 for each veteran burial.
A year ago, 100 acres off John Simpson Road in Southeast was offered for such a cemetery. Developer Harold Lepler, who represents the owner, Tenth Jam Development, said nothing has changed.
“No one’s withdrawn anything,” he said Friday .
As a prerequisite of the state legislation, Putnam County agreed to maintain the cemetery in perpetuity.
The county Legislature’s decision to do so and the proposal for a cemetery near one of New York City’s reservoirs generated controversy, with some worried the matter moved too quickly.
Karl Rohde, a Vietnam veteran who heads the Putnam County Office of Veterans Affairs, said the state level of the Veterans of Foreign Wars has made a New York cemetery “one of its five legislative priorities” this year…
Almost 60,000 veterans live in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, according to federal estimates, with more in the surrounding area. About half of those in the three counties are over 65. In addition to Calverton, local veterans can head to Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery north of Albany. The federally funded state cemeteries — 87 in 40 states — is meant to “complement” the VA’s 131 national cemeteries, the department said.
Both Ball and Castelli urged residents to contact their state representatives and ask them to support the needed legislation.
“I’m a limited-government guy, but if there’s anything the government should do, it’s take care of their veterans,” Ball said. (ARTICLE)