- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 15, 2014

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Angel Fire, Carlsbad, Fort Stanton, and Gallup have been named as proposed sites for new rural veterans’ cemeteries, Gov. Susana Martinez announced Tuesday.

Speaking in Albuquerque in front of a crowd of veterans, Martinez said the naming of the sites is the first step in an effort to provide new cemeteries closer to homes of veterans.

“In a state as large and rural as New Mexico, it is our responsibility to ensure that these resting places are as close to home as possible, so that our veterans and their families do not have to travel hours upon hours to lay their loved ones to rest or to visit their burial sites,” Martinez said.

She recently signed a capital-outlay bill aimed at providing $600,000 to plan, design and construct regional veterans’ cemeteries. The governor’s office called the funding on a “down payment” for the three- to four-acre cemeteries pending approval from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Martinez and New Mexico Veterans Services Secretary Timothy Hale selected the sites after a number of towns recently held community meetings on the need for small rural veterans’ cemeteries across the state.

Mervyn Montano, 78, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, said he was pleased that the cemeteries are being built. But Montano said he wish there a site closer to Taos. “Love ones want to be closer so they visit them often,” he said.

Hale said once the four cemeteries are in use - which could be as early as a year from now - state officials hope to open other cemeteries in other parts of the state.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs, more than half of New Mexico’s 170,000 veterans live too far from the two existing national cemeteries in the state.

Officials said the four communities selected represent areas of New Mexico with the largest underserved veteran populations, based on data from the most recent U.S. Census.

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