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Burial Requirements at Arlington National Cemetery Under Review

Army and Arlington Cemetery officials want to extend the grounds' life span 150 more years

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The public has 60 days to provide comment on a proposal that would change Arlington National Cemetery’s burial requirements and prevent U.S. service members who were not in combat after World War II to be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.

Currently, almost all of the 22 million living members of the armed forces and veterans are eligible to be buried at the cemetery, but fewer than 95,000 burial spaces remain. Under today's rules, new interments will be at capacity by the mid-2050s. The proposal would keep the grounds active for approximately 150 years.

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"The hard reality is, we are running out of space," said Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery. “To keep Arlington National Cemetery open and active well into the future means we have to make some tough decisions that restrict the eligibility."

Service members who would not be eligible for below-ground interment could be laid to rest in Arlington's above-ground facilities.

In creating the new requirements, “imperatives such as sacrifice, service and impact on the nation's security” were considered, Durham-Aguilera said. The proposed criteria are as follows.

The proposal’s public comment period ends on Nov. 16, 2020.

Those eligible for below-ground interment would include:

  • Service members killed in action, including those whose remains were repatriated
  • Award recipients of the Silver Star and above who also served in combat.
  • Recipients of the Purple Heart
  • Former prisoners of war
  • Presidents and vice presidents of the United States
  • Veterans who did combat duty who also served out of uniform as a government official and made significant contributions to the nation's security at the highest levels of public service

Those who would be placed above ground include:

  • World War II–era veterans
  • Retirees from the armed forces who do not meet the below-ground criteria
  • Veterans who have served a minimum of two years on active duty and who also served in combat
  • Veterans without combat service who also served out of uniform as a government official and made significant contributions to the nation's security at the highest levels of public service

In the meantime, current rules will apply, including services already scheduled. The proposal will not affect veterans’ burial benefits or eligibility at the VA's 137 national cemeteries and 115 state cemeteries.

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"This has been a very lengthy and deliberate process that has been done in the public domain,” said Katharine Kelley, former superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery. “We have a Federal Advisory Committee at Arlington National Cemetery, an independent body mandated by Congress to look at very substantive issues related to the cemetery, and they have looked at the question of eligibility for many years."

The process of developing the proposal has involved more than two and a half years of public outreach and deliberation, including feedback from veterans and military service organizations, as well as engagement with Arlington Cemetery senior leaders and committee members.

Cemetery officials previously received more than 250,000 responses to national surveys, with 95 percent of respondents saying they want the site not only to remain open but to remain open and active well into the future.

“This is a lengthy process, but it's another opportunity to have a say in what the future of Arlington National Cemetery should be for our nation,” Durham-Aguilera said.

Meanwhile, the cemetery continues to pursue opportunities to expand its grounds. A project to expand the southern side of the cemetery will add more burial space. But according to the Army, the 37 acres are still not enough to allow new interments well into the future.

The expansion includes the area nearest the Air Force Memorial and part of the former grounds of the Navy Annex.

Editor's note: This story, originally published Sept. 26, 2019, has been updated to reflect the public comment period.

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