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Is Government Spending Too Much to Guard Confederate Cemeteries?

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Tuesday, October 16, 2018   

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Last year's deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville left the Department of Veterans Affairs footing the bill for millions of dollars to protect Confederate cemeteries from vandalism.

Records obtained by The Associated Press show the VA spent nearly $3 million on security for the cemetery since August 2017. Another $1.6 million is budgeted for fiscal year 2019 to pay for security at all Confederate monuments.

In the weeks following the deadly confrontation in 2017, vandals damaged Confederate sites and cemeteries. The VA contracted with Florida-based Westmoreland Protection Agency to provide unarmed security guards to protect the sites. Steve Ellis, executive vice president with the group Taxpayers for Common Sense, said it didn't make sense for the VA to move from a monthly contract to an annual one at a cost of nearly $2.3 million.

"Yeah, I think that money can be better spent elsewhere,” Ellis said. “It's money that's being spent on security that's not needed at these cemeteries. It's money that can't be spent on our nation's veterans."

A spokeswoman for the VA said the agency has a responsibility to protect federal property. And one security subcontractor argued the uptick in vandalism of Confederate monuments this past summer was evidence that cemetery security continues to be necessary.

In August, protesters toppled a century-old statue at the University of North Carolina, and vandals painted on statues in Salisbury, North Carolina and here in Richmond. Ellis said while some security is necessary, it's unnecessary to have round-the-clock security at these simple and solemn sites.

"At some point you've got to back off and see where we are, because we can't afford to continue this ad infinitum,” he said. “And that's certainly what often happens with government spending is that once you turn on the spigot, it's very hard to turn it off."

According to the VA spokeswoman, security funding came from the VA’s budget and did not require an emergency appropriation.


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