Proposed changes to which service members and veterans and service members are eligible to be laid at rest at Arlington National Cemetery are meant to reduce the number of burials per year in order to ensure that the cemetery can continue to be the final resting place for veterans and service members for years to come.
“Nearly all of the 22 million living armed forces members and veterans are eligible for less than 95,000 remaining burial spaces within these hallowed grounds,” according to Arlington National Cemetery’s website.
Stars and Stripes reporter Caitlin Kenney first reported that the proposed changes, which were announced in the Sept. 15 edition of the Federal Register, which lists proposed rules and notices to the public.
"Service members who die on active duty, but neither as the result of armed conflict service nor from preparations or operations related to combat, both defined in § 553.1, are no longer eligible for in-ground interment or above-ground inurnment at Arlington National Cemetery," the Federal Register says."Based on recent trends, approximately 43 service members annually fit this description and were interred or inurned at Arlington National Cemetery."
The term "preparations or operations related to combat" includes training exercises, such as military parachuting, convoy operations, live-fire operations, at-sea operations and flight operations, the Federal Register says.
At the current rate, Arlington National Cemetery is expected to run out of space for new burials by 2041, but the cemetery’s life could be extended to 2055 through a planned 37-acre expansion, according to the Federal Register.
In fiscal 2019, nearly 3,700 new graves were dug at the cemetery, the Federal Register says. Under the proposed changes to eligibility criteria, roughly 700 service members and veterans could be buried at Arlington National Cemetery per year and another 1,950 could have their cremated remains interred above ground.
“Most veterans no longer eligible for in-ground interment at Arlington National Cemetery will remain eligible for above-ground inurnment,” the Federal Register says.
All service members and veterans who honorably serve or receive an honorable discharge with at least 24 months of active-duty service and those who have served in armed conflicts will be eligible to rest at Arlington National Cemetery under the proposed changes to the eligibility criteria.
The majority of service members and veterans eligible under current rules will remain eligible for placement above ground in the columbarium or niche wall at Arlington National Cemetery, said cemetery spokesperson Barbara Lewandrowski.
Those who are killed in action, receive the Medal of Honor, Silver Star or above and have armed conflict service, or receive the purple heart or POW medal will be authorized ground burial, Lewandrowski, told Task & Purpose. All others are eligible for above-ground inurnment.
The public can weigh in about the proposed changes until Nov. 16 by going to Regulations.gov and clicking on “comment.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that active-duty troops killed during training would not be eligible to be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.