Originally created 06/25/02

Veterans cemetery pondered



A veterans cemetery in Augusta is again under consideration, but national officials say federal approval and funding would be tough to obtain.

Representatives of Georgia's Department of Veterans Services and Fort Gordon met Friday with city officials to look at a possible cemetery site on the Army post..

Augusta tried unsuccessfully to gain a national cemetery in 1999.

"This is a great area for military veterans to retire," said Mayor Bob Young, citing local veterans health care and available services at Fort Gordon. "The one thing that's lacking is a place for your final rest."

The National Cemetery Administration, a division of the Department of Veterans Affairs, determines an area's need by the number of veterans in a 75-mile radius of a site. It chose Cherokee County, north of Atlanta, for a cemetery when the national cemetery in Marietta was filled up.

Under the 75-mile rule, Augusta is served by the state veterans cemetery in Milledgeville.

"I'm not sure how the state would address the needs assessment given the fact that Milledgeville is less than 75 miles away," said Bill Jayne, the director of the National Cemetery Administration state cemetery grants service.

States can apply for administration grants to cover construction and design. Funding for existing cemetery upkeep has priority over new projects that serve the most veterans.

"On that basis, an Augusta project would be pretty low down (on the list)," Mr. Jayne said.

Richmond County has 22,927 veterans, said Lamar Faircloth, a division manager for Georgia Veterans Services, which covers Richmond, Columbia and Burke counties. The three-country area has 36,427 veterans.

During 2000 and 2001, about 8,000 World War II veterans in Georgia died, putting a spike in projected burial needs, said Gwendolyn Coley, the regional division spokeswoman for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

During Friday's meeting at Fort Gordon, officials walked a proposed site and discussed its possibilities. State veterans services representatives will now report back to Georgia Veterans Services Commissioner Pete Wheeler to decide whether Fort Gordon is a feasible future cemetery location.

"There's no done deal. The state has not signed off on the property; the Army has not signed off on a donation," Mr. Young said. "So this is just another step in this long walk to the cemetery."

Reach Renee Petrina at (706) 724-0851.