May 14th, 2007 08:10 EST
Sarasota- New National Cemetery Needed For Veterans
WASHINGTON -- To ensure veterans of southwestern Florida have access to a final resting place that honors their military service, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has purchased a 295-acre site in Sarasota County for a new national cemetery for veterans and their families.
“Providing a new national shrine for veterans in southwestern Florida is a priority for VA,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson. “The purchase of this land is the first step in honoring our commitment to provide final resting places and lasting tributes to America's veterans and their families.”
The property was formerly a portion of the Hawkins Ranch, and has extensive frontage on State Route 72. VA purchased the tract for $14 million on April 26. Miller Legg & Associates of Winter Park, Fla., has been hired to design the new cemetery.
When the cemetery is completed, it will provide a burial option for local veterans. About 400,000 veterans live in southwestern Florida.
VA plans for construction to begin in the summer of 2008 in an initial 15-acre section where burials are expected to begin in late 2008. The cemetery staff will work initially from a temporary office, committal service shelter and equipment facility until the construction project is completed. When the cemetery’s first phase is fully built in 2011, its 60 acres will provide 18,200 casket gravesites, a 7,000 unit columbarium, scattering garden and 500 in-ground spaces for cremated remains.
The new cemetery will also include an administration and public information center complex with an electronic gravesite locator and public restrooms, a maintenance facility, a cemetery entrance area, a flag assembly area and a memorial walkway and a donations area, as well as two committal shelters that will use energy-saving solar panels. Other infrastructure design elements include roadways, landscaping, utilities, and irrigation.
The closest VA cemetery in Florida, open to casket and cremated remains, is in Bushnell, about 110 miles from the City of Sarasota. In addition to the new national cemetery in the Sarasota area, VA is planning another national cemetery in the Jacksonville area.
Florida’s other VA national cemeteries are Barrancas in Pensacola, South Florida in Lake Worth, St. Augustine and Bay Pines. The Barrancas and South Florida national cemeteries have space available for casketed and cremated remains. Bay Pines has space available for cremated remains and can accommodate casketed remains in the gravesites of previously interred family members. St. Augustine is closed to new interments, but can bury family members in existing gravesites.
Veterans with a discharge other than dishonorable, their spouses and eligible dependent children can be buried in a national cemetery. Other burial benefits available for all eligible veterans, regardless of whether they are buried in a national cemetery or a private cemetery, include a burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate and a government headstone or marker.
In the midst of the largest cemetery expansion since the Civil War, VA operates 125 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico, and 33 soldiers' lots and monument sites. Nearly 1,900 veterans -- and 900 World War II veterans -- die each day. More than three million Americans, including veterans of every war and conflict, are buried in VA’s national cemeteries on more than 17,000 acres of land.
Information on VA burial benefits can be obtained from national cemetery offices, from the Internet at http://www.cem.va.gov or by calling VA regional offices toll-free at 1-800-827-1000.
Information on the Sarasota area national cemetery is available from the VA Memorial Service Network in Atlanta at 404-929-5899.