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Army Seeks Feedback on Arlington Burial Rules

Photo by: 
U.S. Army/Elizabeth Fraser
Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Members of the public have until Nov. 16 to comment on proposed changes that would dramatically tighten the eligibility criteria for burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

If approved, the new criteria would limit the number of service members eligible for below-ground interment at the cemetery and restrict even farther those who would qualify for above-ground inurnment.

The 60-day comment period, announced Sept. 15, is the next step in the federal rule-making process, the Army said in a statement.

The fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act directed the Army secretary to establish revised eligibility criteria to keep the cemetery functioning as an active burial ground “well into the future,” the Army said last fall when it first revealed the proposed changes. 

“The proposed eligibility criteria honors commitment to military service and is equitable across branches and eras of service,” Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery, said in a statement Sept. 15. “Additionally, any change should be easily understood, fair and consistent with Arlington National Cemetery’s mission.”

The cemetery just outside Washington, D.C., one of America’s most hallowed grounds, is running out of room, and there have been several initiatives to try to preserve space for the future. 

The latest expansion project at the cemetery, known as the Southern Expansion Project, includes the area nearest the Air Force Memorial and part of the former grounds of the Navy Annex. The project adds 37 acres of burial space to the cemetery.

However, expansion alone is not enough to keep the cemetery open in the long-term. If no changes are made to the eligibility criteria, the cemetery will be closed to new interments by the mid-2050s, the Army said.

“We are asking our veterans, families, stakeholders and the public to review our website information, read the Federal Register and engage in this deliberate process,” said Charles “Ray” Alexander, cemetery superintendent. “All of us have a voice into the future of Arlington National Cemetery.” 

The proposal directs the cemetery to preserve 1,000 gravesites for current and future Medal of Honor recipients.

It also would restrict below-ground interment for service members who are killed in action, recipients of the Silver Star or above who also served in combat, Purple Heart recipients, combat-related service deaths while conducting uniquely military activities, former prisoners of war, presidents and vice presidents of the United States, and veterans with 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.

Above-ground inurnment in vaults would be reserved for World War II-era veterans, to include legislated active-duty designees; retirees from the armed forces who are eligible for retired pay but are not otherwise eligible for interment; veterans who have served at least two years on active duty and who have served in combat; and 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.

For more on the proposed eligibility criteria, click here.

To submit a comment or feedback, click here.