Push for New National Cemeteries as Capacity Nears
National cemeteries across the country are starting to reach capacity amid an increase in the number of veterans dying -- fueling a push for the government to approve new sites, particularly in states that don't have any.
"One of the benefits is to be buried with dignity. All veterans are entitled to that," Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said.
Titus represents one of the 11 states, many of them in the West, that don't have a national cemetery. She's introduced a bill that would force the Department of Veterans Affairs to put them in those states.
"I think they should have that opportunity and not be a victim of where they live," she said of veterans.
Just what does a national cemetery mean to a veteran?
Jack Ford, a 25-year Navy vet, said, "Unless you've experienced it, it's hard to describe. It's a place where you're with your fellow comrades and you're recognized for having dedicated your life to your country's service."
Ford is one of more than 300,000 veterans living in Nevada, a popular retirement state.
Last year alone, almost 125,000 veterans were laid to rest at national cemeteries.
Nevada has two state-run cemeteries that receive federal funding, including one in Boulder City that recently expanded.
Chris Naylor, director of the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery, said they are happy to serve the veterans, and believes they have room for years to come.
"I think we can handle the veteran population that's here. In the 24 years the cemetery's been here, obviously we've seen a steady increase of the population of southern Nevada," he said.
But for Ford, there's only one place for a proper burial.
"As veterans we served our nation, I think it's only reasonable that we have a national cemetery we can be laid to rest in," Ford said.
The VA said in a statement to Fox News that it plans to build five new cemeteries across the country, after lowering the population threshold required to build them.
"The Department of Veterans Affairs honors veterans with final resting places in national shrines and with lasting tributes that commemorate their service and sacrifice to our nation," the statement said. "VA's national cemetery administration is in the midst of the largest expansion since the Civil War and has made major progress toward achieving its strategic goal of providing an honored veterans burial to 96 percent of the veteran population within 75 miles of where they live."
The department said it is also "enhancing burial access for smaller veteran populations by developing and maintaining cemeteries in rural areas located in eight states: Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Maine, North Dakota and Wisconsin."