National cemetery construction ‘way ahead of schedule’

Mark Gutman/Daily News File Photograph A building on the site of theWestern New York National Cemetery in Pembroke where work is ahead of schedule, according to the Genesee County Veterans Services director.

BATAVIA — Genesee County Veterans Service Agency Director William Joyce’s departmental report included not only a look at the past several months, but a look at what’s happening now.

COVID-19 hasn’t delayed work on the Western New York National Cemetery, 1254 Indian Falls Rd., in Pembroke, with the project still way ahead of schedule, Joyce told the Human Services Committee on Monday.

“They (construction crews) kept on working. They worked and worked safely,” he said in response to Committee Chairman Gary Maha’s question on whether COVID-19’s had an impact.

“The building that you see from the road — I don’t know if you’ve been by there or not — It shouldn’t be there. That’s how far ahead of schedule they are. The one committal shelter that you can see from the road — that shouldn’t be there,” Joyce said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said the cemetery, being built in two phases, will include a front entrance, an administration building, a maintenance building, a flagpole assembly area, a memorial walkway, committal shelters, columbarium and a public information center with an electronic gravesite locator, and restrooms.

Joyce said he has been doing flyovers of the cemetery site using a drone.

“You’ve got crypts buried in there. It’s supposed to be 2,500 crypts for casket burials and 1,500 for cremains, as it stands now,” Joyce said.

Maha asked about the “pre-need application” form. There is a “NATIONAL CEMETERY” link to the form on the county Veterans Services Agency website — — that the public may click on to get a copy of the form.

“The pre-need ... makes you feel good, let them know that you have a place for burial at the time. Once you have that pre-need letter, as I tell all the veterans, when it comes to your house, it’s in two envelopes. One’s the shipping and the other one is probably a 6 by 12 with a VA emblem on the outside,” Joyce said. “Take your discharge (paper) and make a copy of it, and put it in that envelope, so that way, whoever the family member is that’s making the arrangements for you hands that to the funeral director. The funeral calls the National Cemetery Administration. They see that you’re already approved. It’s simple.”

Committee member John Deleo asked if the spouse of a veteran can also be buried in the cemetery. Joyce said the spouse can.

“If they’re both casket burials, the spouse will be placed in first, in the same vault, and the cross that’s placed in its place will have her name on it,” Joyce said. “When the veteran passes, they’ll place him on top and the cross will be reversed. Her name will be on the back side and his name will be on the front side.

“My goal for next year and this year is to continue being a contact for the national cemetery in Pembroke. Myself and an individual out of Erie County have been chosen to form ... a memorial committee (for donations). The VA cannot buy stuff. It’s as simple as a golf cart for a wheelchair(-bound) spouse or family member to go visit their loved one in a national cemetery.”

Joyce said the committee is not ready to accept donations yet, but at some point it will be able to do so.

Joyce said his office has not only been beneficial for Genesee County veterans, but for veterans from other counties.

“Today (Monday) I had a call from a Dutchess County veteran that they can’t get a hold of anybody down there,” Joyce said. “As long as I can work by email, by telephone, fax ... I take them in. A vet is a vet. I don’t care where they live.”

Referring to the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Joyce said, “It’s nothing like it’s supposed to be. It’s not rapid. I’ve had veterans, since the program’s been instituted, they’re waiting for their appeal to go through the process almost a year afterwards.”

“The regional office is closed, so I find other ways of networking and try to find a solution to the problems I’ve had,” he said.

“Now I’m doing virtual — either a veteran comes to my office and we sit there in front of my computer, with the judge on the other side, or they’re (the veterans) sitting their on their telephone, I’m on my computer and the judge is on his computer,” he said.

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