By Karin Eagle
Native Sun News Staff Writer
PINE RIDGE — Honoring the warriors who have made their commitment to protecting their people continues on, even after death. The Lakota tribes of South Dakota have never been known to shirk this duty.
In October of 2012, the Department of Veterans of Affairs (VA) announced the awarding of 18 grants that would expand or improve existing Veteran cemeteries and to establish one tribal cemetery. The grants totaled over $47 million dollars, including $6.5 million which was awarded to the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
“VA is committed to helping state and tribal Veterans cemeteries meet national shrine standards and honor Veterans with dignified burials,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “It is vitally important that state and tribal governments have the resources necessary to offer quality services to our Nation’s Veterans and their families.”
VA provides grants to states and tribal governments to establish, expand or improve Veterans cemeteries, and for operations and maintenance projects. OST will need to apply for the grant that provides the funding for the operation and maintenance of the cemetery.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe received $6.5 million to establish a new tribal Veterans cemetery on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The cemetery is located approximately eight miles east of Kyle and occupies more than sixty acres of land. The grant funding allowed for the construction of a main entrance, a combined administration/maintenance building, roads, an assembly area, committal shelter, 260 preplaced crypts, cremains burial areas, landscaping a memorial walkway, and supporting infrastructure.
A Memorandum of Agreement was signed on July 31, 2012 during the Yellow Bird-Steele/Poor Bear administration by and between the Oglala Sioux Tribe and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The tribe has agreed to provide burial services in accordance with National Cemetery Administration (NCA) standards and eligibility requirements.
The Rosebud Sioux Tribe currently has a VA cemetery project underway as well.
Veterans with a discharge issued under conditions other than dishonorable, who die while on active duty or who serve a period of active duty service as required by law, their spouses, and eligible dependent children may be buried in a state Veterans cemetery.
States, territories or tribal governments may impose residency requirements and other limitations to eligibility in addition to those imposed by federal law. State eligibility requirements, however, may not be less stringent than Federal requirements.
In a written statement by the NCA the interment process is explained to be designed to ensure that those deserving the honor of military interment are accurately accounted for at all times. Interments within a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) national cemetery will be marked with a permanent, correctly inscribed, Government-furnished headstone, marker, or niche cover.
Eligibility is determined upon request after a person’s death, and must be confirmed before an interment is scheduled through the NCA electronic Burial Operations Support System (BOSS). National Cemetery Scheduling Office procedures are posted on website. The phone number is 800-535-1117.
Gravesite assignments are made without regard to rank, ethnic or religious background, branch of service, or other factors. Interments of Veterans and eligible family members will normally be made in the same gravesite.
Under Public Law 106-65, the Department of Defense is responsible for providing Military Funeral Honors at committal services (information available at www.militaryfuneralhonors.osd.mil).
A permanent headstone/marker/niche cover is ordered through BOSS after headstone inscription data is confirmed with the family. Headstones/markers/niche covers are inspected upon receipt for quality and inscription accuracy. Decedent information and gravesite assignment are verified again at final setting of the headstone/marker/niche cover, which normally occurs within 60 days of ordering.
In addition to daily procedures that ensure accountability of interments, Cemetery Directors complete semi-annual gravesite verifications, and independent assessment teams conduct periodic visits to validate cemetery-reported data.
According to a representative of the Oglala Lakota Veterans Association, Lloyd “Luff” Goings, the VA will pay $750 for the burial of a veteran in the new tribal cemetery. However the cost for transferring a veteran who is buried at other VA cemeteries is $1,200 and is not covered by the VA.
As of press time there are six pending requested transfers to the new cemetery on the reservation. VA will pay for the interment but not the $1,200 to transfer. Non-Natives who have requested to be buried there will be accepted, in accordance with NCA standards and policy. The majority of those non-native veterans making this request are those who are living on the reservation, married to tribal members.
Also available through the new cemetery is the option of transferring veterans who are buried at private, community or church cemeteries on the reservation to the new cemetery. Rooks Funeral Home out of Mission, has indicated that they would provide the transfer for those families wishing to make this change.
In an interview with Native Sun News a representative of the Oglala Lakota Veterans Association, Lloyd “Luff” Goings stated that the association members were against the tribe’s needing to apply yearly for the funding for the operation and maintenance costs.
“In the original grant, the tribe was given a two years window of operation costs that the VA would fund,” said Goings. “We want to know where that time frame went.”
“We feel that since we have to abide by VA rules about burying non-natives in our cemetery, we are a national cemetery, so the VA should hire our people and allocate the funding directly for the operation and maintenance of our cemetery.”
There is a meeting scheduled in the near future between the Oglala Lakota Veterans Association and Congress woman Kristi Noem and Senator John Thune’s offices to discuss the available options.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe will be holding a dedication ceremony at the location of the new cemetery on October 23th at Kyle, beginning at 10 a.m.
Information on VA burial benefits can be obtained from national cemetery offices, by calling VA regional offices toll-free at 800-827-1000 or from the Internet at http://www.cem.va.gov.
(Contact Karin Eagle at [email protected])
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