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Editorial: Another veterans cemetery setback

There they go again. The second phase of the Western New York National Cemetery in Pembroke has been delayed at least two years, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration revealed this month.

Waiting for the cemetery to be built is really getting old for veterans and their families, who have been anticipating its construction since 2010, when plans for the facility in Genesee County were first announced.

Due to cost overruns, construction of the cemetery project was split into two phases. The first is scheduled for completion in time for burials to start late next year. The second was to begin a few months later, but that has been pushed back two years. Construction is to start in 2022 and be completed two years later.

The VA seems to thrive on underperforming, whether in its hospitals or at its cemeteries, where construction delays are the norm. A Government Accountability Office report last month found that the Pembroke cemetery was one of 11 VA cemeteries behind schedule.

Plans for the Pembroke facility have been in flux throughout the process. The columbarium, where cremated remains will be stored, was relegated to phase two of the project, meaning 2024 is the earliest it might materialize. Cremated remains will be buried in the interim.

As we have noted before, with government projects the key is to get them started. Once a project is underway, the money can usually be found to complete it.

Before the VA broke the project in two because of cost overruns, the cemetery was supposed to accommodate the remains of 8,672 veterans by 2022. Due to putting off the columbarium, the cemetery will have a capacity of only 4,000 when the first phase of construction is completed.

Other features of the project were put off until the second phase, including an honor guard building for military ceremonies, an ossuary for remains and a memorial wall saluting veterans interred elsewhere.

The closest veterans cemetery now is located in Bath, about 100 miles from Buffalo. The Pembroke facility, 30 miles from Buffalo, is expected to serve more than 96,000 veterans and family members from the Buffalo and Rochester areas.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., has championed the project since its inception.

Jim Wehner, a Vietnam veteran from Williamsville who attended a recent public meeting about the cemetery delays, said that though he disagrees with Schumer on many issues, he trusts him to stay on top of the cemetery endeavor.

Schumer “has been good at bringing money into Western New York. I’ll go with him on this,” Wehner said.

The senator told The News last month that his “top priority has been – and will remain – making this cemetery a reality for the 167,000 Western New York veterans who deserve a fitting final resting place reflective of their heroic service.”

The veterans counting on this facility are running out of patience, but Schumer’s persistence should ensure it comes to fruition.

It’s important to thank our country’s veterans for their service. Giving them a final resting place to be proud of seems like the least we can do.

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