VA’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA) is bringing burial options closer to Veterans by developing columbarium-only sites in five urban areas across the country. The project, called the Urban Initiative, will provide burial options for Veterans and their families who choose cremation close to the city core. The initiative seeks to establish columbarium-only national cemeteries in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Indianapolis and San Francisco/Oakland (Alameda).
NCA chose these cities for a variety of reasons to include surveys that indicate Veterans choose not to use national cemeteries because of travel and distance barriers. Another reason to build columbarium-only facilities is because it is virtually impossible to find sufficient sites large enough to accommodate casketed burial services in these major metropolitan cities.
VA contracted an independent study in 2008 to look at VA’s burial benefits program and evaluate several aspects to ensure VA continued to meet Veterans’ burial needs. A part of this study examined cremations and whether or not cremation-only cemeteries would serve the needs of Veterans.
The study found that Veterans were receptive to cremation burials at the nearest national or state Veterans cemetery. NCA’s data shows that cremation burials are increasing throughout the country. In 2005, 38.6 percent of NCA burials were cremations and that number increased to 51.8 percent in 2014. These findings and the actual increase in families choosing cremation burials opened the possibility for VA to explore and implement the columbarium-only Urban Initiative.
NCA chose VA’s St. Albans Community Living Center as the site for the New York Urban Initiative project. St. Albans is located in Jamaica, Queens, outside of Manhattan.
Staff members and leaders from NCA and the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System held a public information briefing March 25 on the campus of the St. Albans Community Living Center to discuss the idea with Veterans and community members.
Calverton and Long Island National Cemeteries service more than 500,000 Veterans, their spouses and family members living near St. Albans and New York City. These Veterans and their families who choose cremation, may prefer a columbaria-only facility closer to home over a traditional cemetery farther away.
In San Francisco, NCA is taking advantage of a joint-use project at Alameda Point. VA held a ceremony, November 3, 2014, to commemorate the U.S. Navy land transfer to VA for the establishment of a Veterans’ health clinic and columbarium-only national cemetery. The cemetery will serve about 300,000 Veterans near San Francisco. The neighboring Golden Gate and San Francisco National Cemeteries no longer accept first interments.
In addition to the Urban Initiative, VA developed a Rural Initiative to address barriers for Veterans who lack reasonable access to VA national, state or tribal Veterans cemeteries in rural areas. The initiative will develop three to five acre parcels located in existing public or private cemeteries managed by NCA as National Veterans Burial Grounds for populations of 25,000 or less.
VA dedicated the first burial ground, Yellowstone National Cemetery, in Laurel, Montana, May 26, 2014, and plans to open seven more burial grounds in North Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Maine and Nevada over the next six years.
The Urban and Rural Initiatives, combined with NCA’s projects to extend the life of current cemeteries and build five new national cemeteries, will help to increase access and provide a burial option to 96 percent of Veterans within a 75-mile radius of their homes.
Veterans with other than dishonorable discharges, their spouse and minor dependent children are eligible for burial in VA national cemeteries. Veterans and eligible family members in these cities will still have the option to use any open, VA national cemetery of their choice. Their spouse and minor, dependent children will also retain these options for burial in addition to the columbarium-only facility.
For more information on VA national cemeteries, please visit www.cem.va.gov.
About the author: Richelle Taylor is a public affairs specialist with the National Cemetery Administration, Office of Communications and Outreach Support Division. She is a U.S. Navy Veteran.