NM needs more national cemetery space

— Albuquerque Journal

For more than a decade, New Mexico has needed additional cemetery space for the men and women who have made the sacrifice inherent in serving this country.

In fact, in 2001 New Mexico Republicans Heather Wilson and Pete Domenici introduced legislation in Congress to plan a new site in Albuquerque.

Yet in 2013, New Mexico still has just two national cemeteries, in Santa Fe and at Fort Bayard near Silver City in the southwest part of the state. Santa Fe is expected to run out of space in a decade; Fort Bayard proposed a comprehensive expansion last year.

And even if the two had infinite space, their locations require relatives and friends from all corners of the fifth-largest state in the nation to drive hours to Santa Fe or Grant counties to grieve with the remains of their loved ones. If they can even make the drive.

That in turn forces veterans to pick between a national cemetery designed to recognize their service or a private cemetery close to home. So Gov. Susana Martinez is on the right track in wanting to pursue a state-owned model that would eliminate that wrenching choice.

As many as 10 new veterans cemeteries on state or city land would not be subject to stringent national cemetery criteria. The proposal is projected to cost New Mexico taxpayers just $390,000 to $640,000 in startup money, with the rest covered by federal funding. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs would help maintain the sites.

Considering that in 2011 a private businessman gave Roswell a 22-acre vacant lot next to the main cemetery to be used solely for veteran burials, it’s clear the want and the need are there.

Now there may finally be a way to meet both of those while honoring veterans and their families across the state. The 2014 Legislature should give this proposal serious consideration.