State: Burial backlog at veterans cemetery better, but long-term fixes needed

KANEOHE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Joe Kuhio Lewis is mourning the loss of his grandmother.

And on Thursday, he'll be able to put her to rest at the Hawaii State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe.

That's after he raised concerns about how long it was taking to schedule the burial. He had to wait four and half weeks, instead of the six he was warned to plan for.

"I'm just happy that we were able to lay her to rest sooner rather than later," Lewis said, adding there was an opening in the schedule when another family changed its plans.

Ron Han, director of the Office of Veterans Services at the state Department of Defense, said openings do happen and that means a family can move up the line.

Han added the wait time for a free burial at the cemetery is back to three to four weeks after an unexplained spike in deaths.

The cemetery can only accommodate three to five burials per day, but Han hopes to increase that by re-examining staffing, training and getting approval for an $8 million Veteran Affairs grant for new pre-cast concrete crypts.

"If we were to get support for 4,000 new crypts over two years, they'll help tremendously with timeliness. It'll help tremendously with capacity," he said.

State House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Matt LoPresti toured the cemetery last week and said he's hopeful that a resolution can be found.

"I met with everyone from the front office to the grave diggers to the guys who cut the grass to get to the bottom of what was going on out there," he said.

LoPresti is introducing a resolution for Veterans Services to study the issue of increasing burials and come up with a 10-year plan.

"I'm happy they are looking at long term planning because these are veterans that served our country," Lewis said.

Copyright 2018 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.