By Emily Crowe
CNJ STAFF WRITER
The New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Services held a town hall meeting Tuesday in Clovis to discuss a proposed initiative to build veteran cemeteries in rural New Mexico.
NMDVS Secretary Timothy Hale was joined by Lt. Gov. John Sanchez to present the State Veterans Cemetery Initiative, which is in the early stages of planning.
“Our veterans and their families deserve to be laid to rest in an honorable setting,” said Sanchez. “We owe this to them. That is why we are here today … to rally support in an area which is an ideal location for one of these cemeteries.”
New Mexico is home to nearly 173,000 veterans, with 4,800 of them residing in Curry County.
“We’re looking to try and provide more places closer to our families so that they can go visit their family member on a more regular basis,” said Hale.
Hale said his department will go to the upcoming legislative session with a request for $600,000 to use as seed money for the cemeteries.
If funding is secured, three to four rural cities throughout the state will be chosen for the construction of three to five acre cemeteries. Proposals from those cities will then be taken to the federal level for consideration.
Sites will be chosen based on distance from current Veterans Affairs national cemeteries, veteran population in the area, community support and suitable and available land.
Hale anticipated the sites will be chosen and applications will be turned in to the federal VA office by July 2014, and construction would begin in fiscal year 2015.
The cemeteries will be federally funded and maintained and operated by the state.
Currently, the nearest veteran cemetery to Clovis is the Santa Fe National Cemetery, which is a 215-mile drive. Other national cemetery options for veterans in Clovis include Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Bayard near Silver City.
“There is a willingness up here to support you guys and help you guys with this any way we can,” said Clovis City Commissioner Randy Crowder. “We would certainly be willing to work with you guys. I think it would be a great benefit for our community.”