ROMNEY ANNOUNCES $3 MILLION VETERANS CEMETERY EXPANSION
Governor Mitt Romney today unveiled a $3 million plan to expand the new Massachusetts Veterans' Memorial Cemetery in response to the demand for more burial space for aging veterans.
"This cemetery is a tangible reminder of the country's appreciation for the sacrifices veterans have made in the cause of freedom," said Romney.
The Massachusetts Veterans' Memorial Cemetery in Winchendon is a joint project among federal, state and local partners and is the second state cemetery for veterans. It covers roughly half of 210 acres donated to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by the Town of Winchendon.
Developed with federal and state funds, the $9 million dollar cemetery has a capacity of more than 7,000 spots. Romney's expansion proposal would raise this figure to more than 9,500. The expansion is needed because veterans are dying in greater numbers each year. Nationwide, World War II veterans are dying at a rate of 1,000 per day; in Massachusetts, the number is about 20 per day. By 2008, it is estimated that 1,700 veterans will die each day.
Those eligible for burial include veterans, spouses and children, depending on their age and level of dependency on the parent. Veterans must either be honorably discharged or have died while on active duty. There is no charge for veterans.
Veterans' leaders across the state welcomed Romney's expansion proposal:
"We are excited about the dedication of the much-needed and deserved veterans' cemetery in Winchendon, and we applaud Governor Romney for his leadership and decision to pledge $3 million for future expansion," said Robert Van Kirk, State Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Department of Massachusetts.
"The $3 million for expansion being put forth by Governor Romney is good news for our veterans who deserve a dignified final resting place," said Harvey Weiner, Department Commander of the Department of Massachusetts Jewish War Veterans of the United States.
"The dedication and consecration of the Massachusetts Veterans' Memorial Cemetery provides a lasting testament and tribute to the veterans of the Commonwealth who served their state and nation with honor and integrity," said Ted Mulvehill, President of the Massachusetts Veterans Service Officers Association. "Governor Romney's decision to expand Winchendon just after its official opening is welcome news and clearly shows his commitment to the veterans of the Commonwealth."
"This is a proud day for so many veterans who deserve the honor of being laid to rest with their fellow veterans," said Tom Daley, State Adjutant for the Disabled Veterans Department of Massachusetts. "Veterans are passing away in record numbers and we need to make sure there's enough space to accommodate them in the future. Governor Romney's decision to expand this cemetery will be welcomed by veterans statewide."
"With recent legislation to increase benefits for National Guard members and now this pledge for expansion at Winchendon, the veterans' community is very pleased with what Governor Romney and Secretary Kelley are doing on our behalf," said Eugene Vaillancourt, Commissioner of Veterans' Services for the City of Boston. "I'm very pleased with what's happening on the state level for our veterans."
"This has been a giant effort that has come full circle," said Thomas G. Kelley, Secretary of the state Department of Veterans' Services and a Congressional Medal of Honor winner. "Our heartfelt thanks go out to the citizens of Winchendon, our colleagues in the federal government and Governor Romney for their total commitment to this project. Governor Romney's decision to make a further significant investment in this facility is great news for all veterans."
Romney's $3 million expansion plan will be paid out of state capital funds over the next three years and does not require legislative approval to move forward. The project is expected to go to bid this summer and construction is projected to begin in fall 2005.