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Letter to Secretary, Veterans Administration James Nicholson

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Location: Washington, DC


Letter to Secretary, Veterans Administration James Nicholson

Congresswoman Heather Wilson is working to ensure burial space for New Mexico veterans. Today, she sent a follow-up letter to Veterans Administration Secretary Jim Nicholson, asking him to continue working on expansion of the Santa Fe National Cemetery. Wilson took Nicholson on a tour of the Santa Fe cemetery exactly one year ago.

Wilson says she wants the VA to examine the cost-benefits of purchasing new land for the Santa Fe cemetery, versus the cost of establishing a brand new cemetery.

The entire text of Wilson's letter is below.

June 6, 2007

The Honorable James Nicholson
Secretary, Veterans Administration
810 Vermont Avenue NW
Washington D.C. 20420

Dear Secretary Nicholson,

Thank you for the follow-up letter of April 16, 2007 concerning the appraisal of the St. Catherine's Indian School parcel of land that Mr. Max Tafoya is proposing to sell to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for expansion of the Santa Fe National Cemetery in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I also have received a copy of the letter to the Mayor of Santa Fe, David Coss, from Mr. Frederick J. Neum, Director, Office of Construction Management, VA, (copy enclosed) regarding the City of Santa Fe property.

Additionally, I have enclosed a copy of an April 26, 2007 letter from Mayor Coss addressing both the 5.7 acres of city-owned land and the St. Catherine's Indian School property.

The City of Santa Fe land and the land proposal from Mr. Tafoya both have the potential of extending the interments at the Santa Fe National Cemetery. The VA's first priority should be finalizing the City of Santa Fe's donation, a copy of the City's resolution is enclosed. I believe it would be beneficial for the VA and the City to meet to discuss how to move forward expeditiously to finalize the donation. My office would be happy to assist in coordinating this meeting at the earliest convenient date.

Mr. Tafoya's proposal to sell part of the St. Catherine's Indian School property requires additional consideration. As we discussed during your visit to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2006, while land in Santa Fe is very expensive, the decision on whether to purchase the St. Catherine's parcel should compare the operating costs of a single cemetery for a much longer time versus the operation of Santa Fe and a follow-on cemetery. I don't have the ability to do that kind of analysis, but it should be a factor in any decision.

A further factor is the difficulty of getting a follow-on national cemetery authorized. As you know, the VA formula for prioritizing cemetery construction heavily weights the number of veterans within a certain radius. This formula disadvantages New Mexico and other states in the Mountain West region with our great distances between major cities. I will confer with other members of the New Mexico delegation about the relative difficulty of authorizing a follow-on cemetery when the time comes versus securing an appropriation to expand Santa Fe. The land in question is very expensive. But, depending on the operating cost analysis and the difficulty of authorizations, it still might be the right thing to do for New Mexico veterans.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter. I know that you and I share the goal of providing a final resting place for New Mexicans who have served their nation in uniform. I appreciate your help in this regard.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Sincerely,

Heather Wilson
Member of Congress


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