Army Proposes New Burial Rules to Extend Lifespan of Arlington Cemetery

September 27, 2019 by Dan McCue
Arlington National Cemetery. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – Faced with the prospects of simply running out of space by mid-century, the U.S. Army this week proposed new rules for who can be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Arlington National Cemetery is a national shrine for all Americans, but especially those who have served our great nation,” Acting Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said in a written statement.

“We must ensure it can honor those we have lost for many years to come,” he added.

If the current guidelines for burial remain in place, the cemetery would run out of grave sites sometime in the mid-2050s.

Under a new proposal, veterans who retired from active duty and were eligible for retirement pay would no longer be automatically eligible for in-ground burial. They would be eligible, though, for above-ground “inurnment” of cremated remains.

The new restrictions would extend the use of the cemetery “as an active burial ground”  for another 150 years, the Army said.

Those who were killed in action or received awards such as the Purple Heart or Silver Star could still receive an in-ground burial. U.S. presidents and vice presidents also would retain eligibility.

The Army, which manages the cemetery, has been seeking comment on how it should manage existing space for about two-and-a-half years, and so far, more than a quarter-million people have responded to a survey conducted by the cemetery itself.

Officials have said about three-quarters of survey respondents favored restricting eligibility for burial in some way to preserve the cemetery’s active use for burials.

The proposed plan for future will now be published in the Federal Register to solicit another round of public comments. If those comments prompt no revisions, the new rules could take effect in about nine months.

The cemetery was founded during the Civil War, when Union soldiers seized the estate of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and began burying war dead within feet of the mansion.

Today, more than 400,000 people are buried in the cemetery, and only 95,000 burial spaces remain, though a planned expansion will add 37 acres of burial space and more than 10 years of life to the cemetery under the existing rules.

Under the current rules, nearly all of the 22 million living armed forces members and veterans are eligible for burial at Arlington, the Army said.

For additional information, contact: Lt. Col. Crystal Boring, Army Public Affairs, at 703-693-6477 or [email protected] or Kerry Meeker, Arlington National Cemetery, at 703-614-0024 or [email protected]

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