ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New veterans cemeteries will be built in Angel Fire, Carlsbad, Fort Stanton and Gallup, ending the need for some rural New Mexicans to travel for hours to visit the graves of their veteran friends and relatives.
The selected locations were announced Tuesday by Gov. Susana Martinez at the New Mexico Veterans’ Memorial.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, New Mexico is home to about 170,700 veterans, including more than 21,000 women veterans.
New Mexico currently has only two national cemeteries – one in Santa Fe and one in Fort Bayard.
According to the Governor’s Office, more than two-thirds of the state’s veterans live farther than 75 miles from those cemeteries.
“In a state as large and rural as New Mexico, it is our responsibility to ensure that these resting places are as close to home as possible, so that our veterans and their families do not have to travel hours upon hours to lay their loved ones to rest or to visit their burial sites,” Martinez said.
The state plans to recoup a large portion of the $600,000 appropriated by the state Legislature earlier this year by applying for a special VA Cemetery Grant, which matches dollar-for-dollar any money raised by a state or tribal government. The federal government reimburses the state start-up money once the process is complete, and that money can be used for cemetery staffing and upkeep.
Past efforts by veterans groups to get additional national cemeteries built in New Mexico were stymied by a VA regulation requiring that a minimum of 100,000 veterans live within a 75-mile radius of any proposed national cemetery site. No communities outside of the Albuquerque metro area meet that criterion.
The four communities selected represent areas of the state with the largest number of underserved veteran populations, based on data from the most recent U.S. Census, the governor said. Each community demonstrated that it is ready to get the cemeteries built, including the procurement of three to four acres of land for the cemeteries.
If the program proves successful, Martinez said, additional veterans cemeteries could be added. If the state VA grant application is approved, construction of the new cemeteries could begin as early as October.