The Department of Veterans Affairs last week announced a grant for $1.7 million to build a 1,200-plot veterans cemetery in Saipan.

The grant is to pay the full expense of the 4.6-acre cemetery, including roads, drainage and a committal shelter, according to the announcement.

The cemetery is the first for veterans in Saipan, the most populated island in the Northern Marianas, a commonwealth of 14 islands and home to almost 900 veterans and active-duty personnel, according to the 2000 census.

Guam, which has a veterans cemetery, has almost 4,500 active-duty personnel and 9,000 veterans, according to the census. However, the island’s Veterans Affairs office estimated the number at 16,000 in 1997.

The Marianas government has pushed for the cemetery along with other veterans’ benefits for some time, according to the government’s Web site.

Veterans in the Marianas have been buried throughout the islands. Some families may wish to move some remains to the new cemetery once it opens, suggested the Web site of Pedro Agulto Tenorio, resident representative to the United States for the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. His office was not available for comment Friday.

Any veteran is eligible to be buried at the new facility for free.

“By partnering with state veterans cemeteries, VA is able to honor our commitments to the men and women who have served in uniform,” Veterans Affairs Secretary R. James Nicholson was quoted as stating in a written release. “This partnership provides a final resting place for the Commonwealth’s veterans that meets the high standards of a national shrine.”

Since the VA began issuing grants for state cemeteries in 1980, to augment the network of national cemeteries, it has awarded $215 million to 30 states and Guam, the department reported.

Visit or call (800) 827-1000 for information on VA burial benefits.

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