While large portions of the federal government remain ground to a halt as federal lawmakers stand across the bargaining table from one another, Calverton National Cemetery has been unaffected since the day the so-called “shutdown” began Oct. 1.
But sometime next week, that could change.
If no deal is reached in Washington, D.C., two-thirds of the staff at Calverton National Cemetery, the country’s largest burial ground for veterans, will be furloughed Oct. 22. In that event, the cemetery’s work force would drop from 100 to just over 30, resulting in delayed interments.
While veterans affairs could be considered a nonpartisan issue — especially compared to Obamacare, the issue at the heart of the shutdown — Congressman Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) said last week that he doesn’t see the logic in passing legislation that would before a final deal is made.
“There have been a series of bills Republicans have brought to the floor to reopen a slice of the government,” he said in a conference call Friday with members of the media. “What we say is, ‘Let’s reopen all of the government.’
“Should we allow burials to slow down at Calverton? Of course not. But the answer should be to reopen the entire government. Not pick and choose which parts we want to,” Mr. Bishop said.
The cemetery is funded through the National Cemetery Association, which falls under the purview of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The department is funded in two-year cycles — unlike most departments, which are funded year-by-year — so operations at Calverton, and much of the VA, have so far not been impacted by the impasse to the same degree as the rest of the federal government.
The Calverton cemetery conducts approximately 30 to 40 burials per day on its 1,045 acres, about 800 of which need to be maintained on a regular basis.
Kristen Parker, a spokesperson for the NCA, said that in the event that the shutdown hits national cemeteries, the government would “do whatever it can not to delay a burial. And it would likely be a day or two. Not weeks.”
Funeral homes would be responsible for holding the bodies of deceased veterans while they await their final resting place, according to Parker. In addition, she said, relatives of those who died would still be cared for during any delay in the process.
But many veterans have already had enough. Just after the shutdown hit, a group of vets arrived in Washington to find that they had to remove barricades at the World War II memorial, which had been shut down. And last weekend, Reuters reported that veterans groups took it one step further, removing the barricades and placing them on the lawn of the White House.
“I don’t even know if the government would feel bad [if burials were delayed],” said Frank Bania, who runs Boots on the Ground NY, a veterans group that organizes PTSD support groups, motorcycle cavalcades and other efforts to help veterans.
The former commander of Riverhead VFW Post 2476, Joe Edler, said, “I have a funny feeling this should be settled fast, or else I think they’re going to hurt a lot of veterans.”
If no deal is reached by the end of the month, Mr. Bishop said, the country may not be able to pay out $12 billion in active duty and veterans benefits.