Graves are collapsing at veterans cemeteries across the state. It's a problem that needs to be fixed, but the plan being considered for upkeep could lead to another problem.
"Anything that's slightly out of alignment sticks out like a sore thumb," said Many-Bears Grinder, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs.
At the Tennessee Veterans Cemetery in Nashville and other veterans cemeteries across the state, some graves have started to sink, mainly from settling over the years.
"When (a) grave sinks, it's unsightly to the family of the veteran who deserves the best," Grinder said.
Workers spend many hours every day patching holes, filling graves with dirt and spreading grass seed in order to repair the sinking graves.
"We see, in some parts of the state, veterans being brought to the cemetery in trash bags, cardboard boxes, and some of those in caskets don't have vaults," Grinder said.
And that's part of the problem.
"What happens as a result over time, that material deteriorates, and the graves sink," she said.
Cemetery officials said they normally see graves starting to sink after a slow soaking rain, something as much as 2 to 4 inches.
The problem is much worse in Memphis, where graves are sinking at an alarming rate in part because of the soil and weather. The number of veterans buried there nearly doubles the other cemeteries in the state.
"Our veterans have served. They have sacrificed, and their final resting place should be nothing but pristine perfection," Grinder said.
It costs nearly $216,000 a year to repair the graves, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Now, there is a proposal on the table to outsource the maintenance of veterans cemeteries in the state, but outsourcing may come with a price: Possible job loss.
"If this comes to fruition, we're going to work very closely with those employees to do everything we can for them to gain employment," Grinder said. "For example, we want to write into the contract they are required to interview each employee who will not be retained."
Grinder presented a $4.9 million budget request to Gov. Bill Haslam this week. The department is asking for an additional $1.1 million for the potential outsourcing work.
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