Business as usual – for the most part – at San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella

10/04/2013 2:48 PM

10/04/2013 11:24 PM

One federal operation largely unaffected by the government shutdown is the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery, where an average of six or seven veterans or their family members are buried each day.

For now.

But, like other veterans programs, the cemetery is at risk if the shutdown continues for any significant length of time.

“We are operating normally,” said Cynthia Nunez, acting director of the cemetery. She also oversees the Sacramento Valley National Cemetery in Dixon. “We have not reduced our number of interments.”

The only change so far has come through work that is provided through contracts.

“The contractors are not coming in,” Nunez said. That means work such as mowing and groundskeeping is on hold, although headstones are being set.

But the cemetery is funded only through Oct. 15.

If the shutdown extends that long or longer, “we have not made a decision yet” on how the cemetery will function, though it’s anticipated that burials will continue, Nunez said.

“At that time, we will get guidance from Washington on how to proceed,” she said.

So far, benefits and services for deceased veterans have continued, as have the services for those still living.

But this week, one local funeral home director found it difficult to get through to the necessary agency.

Kristi Ah You, managing partner of Franklin & Downs Funeral Home in Modesto, noted trouble reaching the staff that determines eligibility for veterans.

But by Friday, she was able to get through and arrange services for the families of three veterans with whom she was working.

That service is not available locally and must be accessed through Washington, Nunez said. For other problems, however, she said veterans’ families are welcome to call the cemetery directly at (209)854-1040 weekdays.

For at least the next couple of weeks, the regular staff will be on hand to help callers.

And so far, Nunez said, even the lack of groundskeeping work over the past few days isn’t apparent.

“For now, the cemetery looks great,” she said. “We’ll see in two weeks.”

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