Mississippi Receives $6.9 Million Check

Federal funds are now officially in the hands of Mississippi officials to establish the first state veterans cemetery.

The site is located along Interstate 20 in Newton County, between Hickory and Newton.

The project is one of the biggest and most expensive of its kind in the nation.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs delivered the $6.9 million check to the Mississippi Veterans Affairs Board Tuesday.

"This is huge. It's one-sixth of my total budget, this $7 million is," said Frank Salvas, director of the U.S> Department of Veterans Affairs Grants Service. "So for me, it's a monster project."

Although it's tough now to get federal funding, Salvas said there is a reason why this project has been chosen to receive such a large portion of his budget.

"In this particular project, there were approximately 50,000 veterans that were un-served by a national cemetery or a state cemetery," said Salvas. "That was the criteria for committing to this project. That's why it's so important."

Set to be opened in phases, state officials say the plan is to ultimately have up to 15,000 veterans laid to rest at the site.

"It will be any veterans, their spouses and their children," said Brig. Gen. Martha Joe Leslie, president of the Mississippi Veterans Affairs Board. "It's just the right thing for us to do at this time."

Although the almost $7 million is significant, supporters of the effort say more money still must be raised.

"We're going to be looking at probably raising probably a half million dollars over the next 18 months to supplement what has come in from the veterans programs," said Jack Winstead, president of the Friends of Mississippi Veterans.

Those donations will be used to fund things that the tax dollars cannot, such as a music stand.

With an official ribbon cutting ceremony set for Nov. 5, 2009, the cemetery is slated to open about 12 to 15 months later, in the year 2011.

This veterans cemetery will be the first of its kind in Mississippi. Alabama won't be far behind. Gov. Bob Riley has signed a bill authorizing a veterans cemetery there as well.


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