Arlington National Cemetery Close to Capacity

Arlington National Cemetery Close to Capacity

Photo by: U.S. Army

Arlington National Cemetery will reach its burial capacity in about 30 years unless the Army makes some tough choices now.

A report to Congress about the cemetery’s capacity offers a dire prediction that veterans of current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the fight against terrorism, and those killed in action and recipients of the Medal of Honor, may not be buried there “within approximately three decades due to the lack of space.”

Options to avoid reaching capacity include redefining eligibility criteria, expansion beyond the cemetery’s current physical boundaries, and alternative approaches such as new burial techniques or increased use of above-ground interment.

The eligibility criteria for burial has changed at least 14 times in the past 15 decades but there hasn’t been a significant change in policy since 1980, states the report, which is careful to point out that any such change would require a “thoughtful approach” to make sure veterans who could be affected are made aware of the challenges facing the cemetery in the near future and informed of options available at other veterans’ cemeteries around the country.

The recent 27-acre expansion at the Virginia cemetery—the first since 1976—will grow capacity by more than 27,000 spaces, but there is only one additional planned expansion. Assuming that project moves forward, the first burial wouldn’t take place until 2023, the report says.

In more than 150 years, 400,000 people have been buried at the cemetery from every major American conflict. Currently, the cemetery conducts up to 40 burials a week. The Department of the Army controls the 624-acre cemetery, which was established during the Civil War.