VA cemetery construction is 'years behind schedule,' report finds

Kaylah Jackson
October 01, 2019 - 11:10 am
VA cemetery expansion behind schedule according to GAO report

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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According to a new government report a plan to complete 13 cemeteries across the country for veterans by the end of fiscal year 2017 isn't even close to being completed. As of this year, only two sites, Laurel, MT and Fargo, ND are finished.

As a result, VA and the National Cemetery Administration (NCA) have broadened the timeline, even allowing one cemetery in San Francisco, CA—originally scheduled for completion in 2015—to be extended until 2027.

The lack of progress was highlighted in a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report which looked at the status of 18 planned national veteran cemeteries that are designed to expand burial access and cremated remains for veterans across the country.

GAO report on NCA and VA cemetery progress
Courtesy of Government Accountability Office

The timeline from land approval to the cemetery design can sometimes take two years. Construction alone can take up to 30 months according to NCA officials. As of September 2019, only five of the 11 sites are in the construction phase.  NCA officials mentioned they “might have overstated” 2014 expectations for their original cemetery expansion plans, hence the limited progress.

One of the main obstacles for the cemetery initiatives is securing land. After various challenges with land budget estimates and property value, for example, the National Cemetery Administration is currently on its sixth try in establishing a veterans cemetery at a site in Chicago, Illinois.

The GAO report is recommending VA revise its cost-estimate procedures for construction projects and that NCA changes its data procedures for how it tracks veterans. Currently, the NCA uses population data at the county level to inform decisions about cemetery site placements. The report, however, recommends the agency uses census tract data, which it deems as "more precise."

Urban and rural sites aren't the only areas facing obstacles when it comes to space expansion. In September, Arlington National Cemetery announced rules to better accommodate the less than 85,000 remaining burial spaces. 

In March of this year, the Department of Defense announced an expansion process that would add 37 acres to the site where more than 400,000 service members and family members have a final resting place.

Arlington National Cemetery considers new burials rules

Arlington National Cemetery set to expand

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