"During the last 10 weeks, VA national cemeteries have continued performing our essential mission — to inter veterans and eligible family members,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a statement. “We believe we have a robust set of measures in place that will allow us to conduct committal and memorial services while protecting the health and safety of veterans, their families and our team members who serve them.”
The VA said it contacted families who were unable to hold services because of the pandemic to arrange for memorial services for their loved ones beginning in July. While military cemeteries remained open for interments and visitations during the pandemic, other services were temporarily suspended to meet safety and health guidelines.
Cemeteries will continue to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by limiting the number of individuals attending services, practicing physical distancing between individuals not from the same household, ensuring all attendees and employees wear face masks, encouraging frequent use of hand sanitizer and asking sick individuals to stay home. The number of people who are permitted to attend will vary based on state and local guidelines for gatherings. However, families can continue to choose direct interment and opt for a memorial service later when all restrictions have been lifted.
Arlington National Cemetery Reopens to Public
In early September, Arlington National Cemetery began permitting the public to access its grounds between 8 a.m. and noon. But some common sites of interest remain closed, including the gravesite of John F. Kennedy, the Memorial Amphitheater and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Funeral services allow no more than 50 people in attendance, funeral honors have a modified escort, and only two family members are allowed in the administration building for coordination on the day of the funeral.
Family pass holders still have access to visit a loved one’s gravesite from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Who can be buried in a VA national cemetery?
Veterans, service members, spouses and dependents may qualify for burial benefits if they meet one of the following requirements:
- A veteran who didn't receive a dishonorable discharge
- A service member who died while on active duty, active duty for training or inactive duty for training
- The spouse or minor child of a veteran, even if the veteran died first
- In some cases, the unmarried adult dependent child of a veteran
Other eligibility information can be found on the VA's website.
The VA can make a “pre-need” determination of eligibility for VA burial and memorial benefits before death. This can eliminate the need for family members to search for documentation at the time of death. Veterans and family members can apply here.
If a VA national, state or tribal veteran's cemetery is selected as the final resting place, a veteran will receive the following: gravesite, opening and closing of the grave, grave liner and perpetual care of the gravesite. Also included are memorial benefits such as a headstone, marker or cover for a columbarium niche.
If a private cemetery is chosen, a government-furnished headstone, marker or cover can be provided free of charge.
How can a burial flag be obtained?
The VA provides a free burial flag to drape the casket or urn of deceased veterans who served honorably. The flag is often given to the next of kin as a keepsake after a funeral service.
A flag can be issued to a funeral director or anyone else who certifies the eligibility of the deceased veteran. Flag applications should be completed as soon as possible and submitted to the post office. More information can be found here.
Editor's note: This story, originally published June 11, 2020, has been updated to reflect changes in Arlington National Cemetery’s operating status and provide guidance on obtaining a burial flag.