President Bush's 2003 Budget Proposes More National Cemeteries
by Robert M. Fells, Esq., general counsel
The proposed fiscal year 2003 budget unveiled by President Bush following his State of the Union Address includes $88 million for new national cemeteries under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) National Cemetery Administration.
According to VA statistics, approximately 100,000 veterans and their eligible independents are interred each year in 120 national cemeteries and the 40 VA-funded state cemeteries, or approximately 3 to 4 percent of the annual deaths in the United States. The VA states that it has not decided where new cemeteries should be built or how many will be required, but the proposed budget seeks funding for construction in the vicinity of Miami, Florida, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The VA projects that veterans’ deaths will peak in three years, during 2005, then decline thereafter. Historically, a new national cemetery requires between four to five years to open after funding has been proposed; therefore, cemeteries currently proposed would not become operational until the number of veterans’ deaths are in decline.
However, virtually all military and veterans programs are receiving increased funding from Congress in the wake of the September 11 attacks and the war on terrorism. For fiscal year 2002, the VA is projected to spend $51.5 billion, of which the National Cemetery Administration budget accounts for approximately $120 million, or less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the VA budget.