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07-09-03, 12:06 PM
VA Cemeteries To Mark 30th Year

WASHINGTON (July 7, 2003) -- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
cemetery system will celebrate 30 years of operation with events at national
cemeteries in September.

On Sept. 1, 1973, Congress transferred 82 national cemeteries, and
the program that provides headstones and markers for the graves of veterans,
from the Department of Army to what was then the Veterans Administration.
Those cemeteries joined 21 others already operated by VA.

"A long history of compassionate service and the number of veterans
or family members who have chosen burial in our national cemeteries --
reaching three million recently -- testifies to their status as national
shrines," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi. "That is
a commitment VA is privileged to honor as we meet the burial needs of
veterans in the 21st century."

From 1862, when national cemeteries were created during Abraham
Lincoln's presidency, to 1973 -- a span of 111 years -- just over 1.3
million interments were made in national veteran cemeteries. In the 30
years since then, VA has buried 1.7 million veterans, spouses and children.

Since taking over the national cemetery system in 1973, VA has
established 17 new cemeteries, begun planning five more and increased annual
burials from 36,400 to a record 89,300 in 2002. VA also distributed a
record number of headstones and markers last year for graves of veterans
worldwide -- 348,000.

VA's planning of new cemeteries, and its grant program helping
states to build veterans cemeteries, are designed for a death rate among
veterans that will continue to rise for several years. Nearly 655,000
veteran deaths are estimated for this year, with the death rate peaking at
676,000 in 2008.

"VA is committed to making every national cemetery a national
shrine, which visitors will consider beautiful and awe-inspiring tributes to
those who gave so much to preserve America's freedom and way of life," said
Principi.