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VA moving ahead with national cemetery in El Paso County

October 4, 2013 Updated: October 4, 2013 at 7:53 am
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Patriot Guard Rider Abe Duran of Pueblo salutes as pall bearers from Fort Carson's 4th Infantry Division carry the casket of Staff Sgt. Glen H. Stivison Jr. at Evergreen Cemetary during graveside services Monday, October 26, 2009, for the Fort Carson soldier who was killed October 15, 2009 outside Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mark Reis, The Gazette

The Veterans Affairs department has agreed to buy land for a national cemetery in El Paso County, officials announced Wednesday.

The veterans cemetery will be off Bradley Road, east of Powers Boulevard, southeast of Colorado Springs, said Victor Fernandez, chairman of the Pikes Peak National Veterans Cemetery Committee.

"You don't know how good this feels," said Fernandez who has spearheaded efforts to get the cemetery for more than a decade.

The cemetery deal was first announced by Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat.

"This welcome and long overdue news represents a significant step toward finally building a cemetery veterans in southern Colorado can call their own," Bennet said in a statement.

El Paso County has the highest concentration of veterans in Colorado but was long denied a cemetery by VA regulations, which said the Fort Logan National Cemetery, 75 miles away in Denver, was close enough. Burial at a federal cemetery is one of the benefits veterans gain for their honorable service.

Colorado Springs veterans, led by Fernandez, entered into a long campaign through bureaucratic red tape to get a final resting place in view of Pikes Peak.

The land that's been picked fits the bill, said Fernandez, a retired Army colonel who served in Vietnam.

"It has a perfect view of the peak," he said.

Specifics of VA's land deal weren't available Wednesday.

Bennet's office said the agency has agreed to the purchase, but still must take final steps to acquire the land.

Fernandez said he's keeping his fingers crossed.

"I would not call it a done deal until they actually sign for that property," he said

The agency, in a 2012 environmental assessment of the cemetery, called for buying a 326-acre site.

VA plans call for the first burials at the cemetery in 2015, with full completion of cemetery facilities by 2017.

Fernandez said the community could see a ground-breaking at the site next year.

"We're now at a point where we're seeing light at the end of the tunnel," he said.

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