Two state lawmakers are calling on their colleagues to pass legislation that will let New York enter into a federal funding program to create a state veterans' cemetery for the area.
Joined by military veterans Thursday at Mount Kisco's American Legion hall, state Sen. Greg Ball and Assemblyman Robert Castelli argued that the establishment of such a place would be convenient for veterans and their families both because it would be closer and due to its intended lower cost of service.
“No veteran in New York state should be denied the dignity of an honorable burial after a lifetime of fateful service to this nation," Castelli said.
Currently, Ball explained the closest veterans' cemeteries are located on Long Island an in Saratoga, NY. He said that the locations pose hardships for families in terms of traveling to the sites.
Ball also noted that the reimbursement rate per burial is $700, with full reimbursement for the cemetery construction cost.
Patrick Guido, a New Rochelle resident who has been in the funeral business for decades, was on hand to talk about the high cost for burial. In total, he said it can cost about $11,000 to $12,000 for a family in this metropolitan area to come up, including items such as purchasing plots and the funeral cost itself.
Getting the enabling legislation necessary for New York to participate in the federal support program has been a challenge. It passed the state Senate last year but was never taken up in the assembly. This time, Castelli and Ball are co-sponsoring bills in both chambers and hope to get it moving by urging people to contact lawmarkers who can influence its passage. They also want to see it included in the 2012-13 state budget. Additionally, it was explained that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has kept half a million in his proposd budget for the state's funding portion of the initiative.
“There is money available, but unfortunately in Albany, politics sometimes reigns supreme," Castelli said.
Talking to reporters, Ball felt that “a couple of misconceptions” have held up the proposal. They include, he explained, legislators not having it among their top priorities and concern about potential cemetery maintenance on the state's part.
Ball said, “I’m a limited government guy but I believe that if there’s anything that the government should do, it is absolutely to take care of our veterans and the perpetual maintenance of such a cemetery is, is an example of that."
There have been several areas in the region talked about for placing a state veterans' cemetery. According to Ball, Putnam County has expressed interest, while Montrose, which already has a VA hospital, has been mentioned.
Where to place such a cemetery is based, according to Ball, on looking at a 75-mile radius from a point and with the federal government looking at applications based on underserved veterans.
Veterans from the area were on hand and in support of the proposal.
“I thought it was very interesting," said John Graziano, a World War II veteran and Lincolndale resident. He plans to be buried in Mount Kisco's Oakwood Cemetery.
Cozz Procopis, who is commander of the Mount Kisco Legion hall and a village resident, said it is “a much needed cemetery.” Procopis, a Korean War veteran, also responded that he knows people who could benefit.