OGDEN — According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are about 40,000 veterans living in the six northernmost counties in Utah.
The bureau also says Utah veterans are significantly older than the general population, with two-thirds of them being at least 55 years old and 44 percent being at least 65 years old.
“A lot of us are getting up there in age,” says Terry Schow, Vietnam veteran and former executive director of the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs. “So it’s only natural to start thinking about some not-so-pleasant things.”
Morbid as it sounds, Schow is referring specifically to funerals — where and how a U.S. military veteran might want to be interred.
Despite Northern Utah’s robust veteran population, the only veterans cemetery in the state is in Bluffdale. That doesn’t sit well with Schow and he’s set about to change it.
He’s been talking with Randy Reeves, the under secretary for the U.S. VA’s Memorial Affairs, and with executives from the Utah VA — trying to garner support to establish a federal veterans cemetery somewhere in or near Ogden.
The VA’s National Cemetery Administration provides burial and memorial benefits for veterans and eligible family members and maintains and operates 136 cemeteries in 40 states and Puerto Rico. The administration is also responsible for 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites.
Schow said there are several reasons a veteran might chose to be buried at a national veterans cemetery, but perhaps chief among them is the fact that the actual burials are paid for by the federal government.
“You’ve still got to deal with the funeral homes and all of that,” he said. “But the burial itself is free.”
Schow said a Northern Utah veterans cemetery is only an idea at this point, but he believes it’s one worth pursuing.
“I’ve spoken to veterans, and they’re behind the idea,” he said. “Right now, you’re almost into Utah County (with the current cemetery) and the likelihood that a veteran from say, Box Elder County, is going to want to be buried that far away from home, I think is pretty small. I’d like to have one up near this end of the state so our veterans at least have a (viable) option.”
If anyone can grease the right wheels for a vets cemetery, it’s probably Schow. During his tenure as head of the state VA, he was instrumental in bringing the George E. Wahlen Ogden Veterans Home to Ogden.
With Schow as the spearhead, Utah worked for about half a dozen years to get approval for the home and to find funding for it. It was approved in the 2007 session of the Legislature, and the state spent about $20 million to build it, with the federal government later reimbursing two-thirds of that cost.
The home is named for Wahlen, who, until he died in 2009, was Utah’s only living recipient of the Medal of Honor.
Schow also crusaded for more than a decade to get a Vet Center in Weber County.
The centers provide readjustment counseling for combat veterans, military sexual trauma counseling and grief counseling for families of soldiers killed while serving in combat. Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment, drug and alcohol assessment, and suicide prevention are also provided.
The facilities technically fall under the U.S. VA, but they are community-based and all services are offered free.
Weber County’s center opened in North Ogden in April 2018. There’s a bill sponsored by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah in Congress that calls to rename the center after former North Ogden Mayor Brent Taylor, who was killed in Afghanistan in November 2018.