What to Know
- Arlington National Cemetery could run out of new burial space by 2040 if current practices continue.
- The Army has proposed tighter restrictions on which service members can be buried in the cemetery.
- One veterans group, Veterans of Foreign Wars, testified against most of the army's proposed changes.
Military officials are considering changing the rules about who is eligible to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery amid concerns that burial space will run out within the next 22 years.
The cemetery will be closed for new interments by 2040 if current policies continue, said the executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries, Karen Durham-Aguilera, at a congressional hearing on Thursday.
"A veteran from the 1991 Gulf War who lives to his or her normal life expectancy will not be able to be interred at Arlington," Durham-Aguilera said.
With limited extra space available in the D.C. metropolitan area, the best solution is to tighten rules about who is eligible for burial, Durham-Aguilera said.
The Army’s testimony acknowledged the emotional impact of barring some service members from being buried at Arlington, which is the final resting place of more than 400,000 Americans. But with 150 funeral services every week and 3.3 million visitors every year, the pacing is stretching staff and land resources, Durham-Aguilera said.
Necessary changes include restricting eligibility to retired veterans or service members who receive a Silver Star or above, were wounded, killed in action or otherwise died while serving on active duty, Durham-Aguilera testified.
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Currently, most military members who served at least one day of active duty or anyone eligible for retirement pay, plus their spouses, children or dependent adult children, are eligible.
The public is overwhelmingly supportive of Arlington National Cemetery continuing to actively bury former service members, according to a survey of 28,000 people conducted by cemetery leadership.
The survey polled opinions on whether different groups should be eligible.
Overall, 91 percent of people support those with Medals of Honor or who were killed in action to remain eligible.
About 75 percent surveyed responded that prisoners of war and those with valor awards or Purple Hearts should also be included, which would extend the active life of the current cemetery grounds to 2200.
About 35 percent of people reported that military retirees should be eligible.
About 13 percent of people polled didn’t want substantial changes.
John Towles, the deputy director for Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), rejected most restrictions.
"In the end, the men and women who served this national honorably, as well as their family members, deserve to be laid to rest in hallowed ground," he wrote in congressional testimony.
Towles said the only acceptable restriction is leaving out those who served less than 24 months unless they were killed in action.
The cemetery could hold about 200 fewer burials a year by adopting that rule, Towles said.
Arlington National Cemetery should move forward with a proposal to buy about 40 acres of land to the south of the current cemetery site, Towles said. That plan is already underway, News4 reported.
Towles said the two changes would allow the cemetery to continue burials through 2074.
The organization also suggested The Armed Forces Retirement Home be considered for an expansion.
Representatives from The American Legion and Military Officers Association of America said that restrictions may be good for the cemetery's long-term viability and suggested further surveys to gauge public mood on the details.
Army officials aim to create a plan that allows new burials for the next 150 years, Durham-Aguilera said.