Massachusetts pondering longer hours at Agawam veterans cemetery
Massachusetts veterans’ services officials have said they are looking to expand hours at a state-run cemetery in Agawam, after receiving complaints about an early closing time.
In a statement, the Executive Office of Veterans’ Services said last October it started closing the Veterans' Memorial Cemetery
in Agawam at 4 p.m. because it's close to a "major tourist attraction," staffing challenges and security concerns. The Six Flags New England amusement park is about a mile-and-a-half away.
Sen. John Velis, D- Westfield, said he doesn't buy that reasoning and that expanded hours would be helpful to the families of deceased veterans who have to work past 4 p.m. during weekdays. Velis said he has heard from some constituents trying to visit the cemetery, only to find a locked gate.
"Their inability to visit their loved one, to say hello to their loved one, to say a prayer with their loved one, just to visit their them was absolutely mind-boggling to me,” Velis said.
He also expressed frustration that the other state-run veterans cemetery in Winchendon has around-the-clock access. He said he understands there might be security concerns at the Agawam location that would mean not keeping it open 24-hours a day, but “4 p.m.? Give me a break,” Veils said on Friday. “And ... [that] is the exact message I conveyed to the state and the secretary yesterday.”
In the statement, the veterans’ services office said “various different approaches exist among veteran cemeteries at the state and federal level regarding visitation hours.”
The decision to limit the hours in Agawam was made under the previous administration of former Gov. Charlie Baker. Former state representative Jon Santiago was appointed earlier this year by current Gov. Maura Healey to become the first ever Secretary of the Office of Veterans’ Services.