By JIM VINES
The Department of Veterans Affairs has acquired 247.4 acres of land in Morovis, Puerto Rico, to prevent the loss of burial benefits to Puerto Rico’s veterans when the Puerto Rico National Cemetery, located in Bayamon, closes to new interments sometime in 2022. The VA closed on the Morovis property for approximately $7.6 million. There is no possibility for expansion adjacent to the original cemetery because the property is surrounded by commercial and residential developments.
Puerto Rico National Cemetery became a national cemetery on July 12, 1948. The cemetery serves approximately 107,480 veterans in Puerto Rico and the U.S.Virgin Islands. Situated on 108.2 acres, of which 99 have been developed, the cemetery accommodates casket and cremated remains. More than 1,700 burials were conducted in fiscal year 2012. Puerto Rico National Cemetery is the only national cemetery located outside of the United States. More than 56,000 veterans and family members are interned there.
Veterans with a discharge issued under conditions other than dishonorable, their spouses and eligible dependent children can be buried in a VA national cemetery. Also eligible are military personnel who die on active duty, their spouses and eligible dependents. 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. Families of eligible decedents may also order a memorial headstone or marker when remains are not available for internment.
In the midst of the largest expansion since the Civil War, the VA operates 131 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico and 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites. More than 3.8 million Americans, including veterans of every war and conflict, are buried in VA national cemeteries.
Information on VA burial benefits can be obtained at www.cem.va.gov, by calling VA regional offices toll free at 800-827-1000, or by contacting a local veterans service officer. To make burial arrangements at the time of need at the Puerto Rico National Cemetery, call 787-798-8400 or 8413, Monday thru Friday, between the hours of 7:30 am to 4:00 pm.
Jim Vines is commander of AmVets Post 133.