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Cortez Masto: Veterans cemetery, wildfires and COVID-19
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Cortez Masto: Veterans cemetery, wildfires and COVID-19

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ELKO – Could the fifth time be the charm for the Elko Veterans Cemetery?

If legislation is passed on its fifth try in Congress, a burial place for northeastern Nevada’s servicemen and women would be created in Elko County.

Introduced by U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev, and Jacky Rosen, D- Nev in March, the bill would authorize the transfer of land from the Bureau of Land Management to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for use as a national cemetery.

“Currently, the nearest national cemetery is over 250 miles away in Fernley,” Cortez Masto said. “It’s long past time we approve this transfer of land and allow the city of Elko and the surrounding region the chance to lay their brave veterans to rest close to their home and loved ones.”

The veterans’ cemetery was one of the items discussed by Cortez Masto in an interview with the Elko Daily Free Press last week, which included the federal government’s response to COVID-19 and establishing safety protocols amid Nevada’s wildfire season.

Elko Veterans Cemetery

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs approved the construction of a veteran’s cemetery with the Elko National Cemetery Act to authorize the transfer of land. Still, four previous bills have not been passed.

“This is the fifth consecutive budget proposal we have put in to prioritize this,” Cortez Masto said.

However, the BLM and the National Cemetery Administration needs “to work together” to establish the site, Cortez Masto explained.

“I have put legislation within the current National Defense Authorization Act to move forward to this. I’ve also sent a letter to both the BLM and the National Cemetery Administration, urging them to support my legislation to finally get this done,” she said.

Fighting wildfires during a pandemic

Cortez Masto, along with Senator Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, co-sponsored legislation to give firefighters employed by the federal government who contract COVID-19 on the job eligible for medical coverage and Workman’s Compensation.

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The bill was developed from a hearing of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, where many members are from western states and discussed the challenges of fighting fires during the pandemic.

“What came to us was the need to ensure they have personal protective equipment, the resources and the protections in place so they can be safely out there fighting fires.”

The senator also checked in with local, state and federal firefighters for an update recently as there have been six large wildfires in the state this season.

“They have the PPE and the support they need [along with] the precautions they were taking,” Cortez Masto said. “I think it’s important that we continue to engage and have those discussions as we see wildfires continue throughout our state.”

Restoration of burned areas, such as Lamoille Canyon from the Range 2 fire, is still on the mind of Cortez Masto and the region’s firefighters.

“That’s one of the things that came up in our conversation,” she added. “I want to make sure that as we put together the budget at the federal level, we have the money to support any restoration and make sure they have what they need.”

“It’s important for me to continue to talk with [the firefighters] on a regular basis to see that they are getting that funding,” Cortez Masto continued.

“It’s one thing for us to appropriate, but it’s another to make sure it gets back into our community in Nevada. I want to make sure they are able to access those funds and utilize them to the benefit of our state.”

COVID-19 resources and support

The senator said she believes the next stimulus package for state, local and triable communities “should have started now and passed on the Senate side,” but negotiation is set to begin at the end of this month, Cortez Masto said.

“[It’s] based on Mitch McConnell and his decision because he’s the leader, and he decides the timing in all of this,” she explained.

Cortez Masto said she felt additional funding is necessary to “make sure we are shoring up the healthcare piece of it.”

“Access to health care, to resources and putting more money into tests, ramping up the testing,” is the next step she said.

“Access to the supply chain for that testing, housing and so many other things,” Cortez Masto explained. “There’s a number of things we really need to be focused on and putting resources into our community.”

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