Nebraska Senators Ben Nelson and Mike Johanns introduced legislation today authorizing the establishment of a new national cemetery for eastern Nebraska, western Iowa and northwestern Missouri in the region of Sarpy County.
"With its historic support for our military and in recognition for its role as the home of Offutt Air Force Base and U.S. Strategic Command, I believe Sarpy County is the perfect location for a new national veteran's cemetery," said Senator Nelson. "Our bill will establish a new national cemetery in Sarpy County and ensure that the 172,000 veterans in this region will get the recognition they deserve and the honor of a final resting place in a national veteran's cemetery."
"A new national veteran's cemetery in the Sarpy County region will provide Nebraskans, and everyone who visits, a place to honor and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to their country," said Senator Johanns. "The Sarpy County Region is home to one of our military's most prominent institutions, Offutt Air Force Base, and the location could not be more fitting. I am very pleased to be a part of this effort to ensure the sacrifices made by our American heroes shall never be forgotten."
Current Veterans Affairs (VA) regulations require a threshold of 170,000 eligible veterans living within a 75-mile radius of a proposed cemetery site to merit the establishment of a new national veterans cemetery. An independent analysis conducted by the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency in Omaha estimates the number to be near 172,500, while the VA estimate places the number of eligible people closer to 133,000. Nebraska veterans and local officials have pushed for the radius to be increased for the Sarpy County cemetery due to differences in the rural region.
The VA commissioned a study to (1) Assess the adequacy and effectiveness of the current policies and procedures that comprise the VA Burial Benefits Program; (2) Estimate the type and extent of burial needs for the future; (3) Assess the need for or interest in new symbolic expressions of remembrance and/or modify the current symbolic expressions available; and (4) Assess the need for additional performance measures that can be used to measure results with targets put in place by VA. The study of the VA Burial Benefits report was published August 2008. The study recommended that between 2010 and 2015, that a new national cemetery be constructed in Nebraska. The commission recommended lowering the threshold to 110,000, which Sarpy County would meet.
To date, the recommendations of the commission have not been accepted by the VA - so the standing guidelines 170,000 and 75-mile radius continue to apply.
The legislation proposed by Senator Nelson and Senator Johanns directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a national cemetery in the Sarpy County region. A cemetery in Sarpy would be the second site in Nebraska; currently there is one cemetery located at Fort McPherson near Maxwell.
A 75-mile radius may be appropriate in large urban areas with dense population but it's an arbitrary regulation that ignores the reality of rural communities and states like Nebraska. This bill would remove this arbitrary obstacle and provide veterans with the deserved recognition of burial in a national cemetery. Without such a cemetery, many would choose to forego this honor - even though they are entitled to it.
Both the Sarpy County Board and Omaha City Council have supported the establishment of a national cemetery in Sarpy County. Both boards passed resolutions in 2007 encouraging federal officials to do what is necessary to push the VA and authorize the cemetery.