Wait Time for Burial at Arlington Can Be Nearly a Year: IG Report

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Family, friends, and visitors honor the fallen in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, May 26, 2019. Every year over Memorial Day weekend, over 142,000 visitors come to Arlington National Cemetery to honor those who are laid to rest in these hallowed grounds. (U.S. Army photo/Elizabeth Fraser)
Family, friends, and visitors honor the fallen in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, May 26, 2019. Every year over Memorial Day weekend, over 142,000 visitors come to Arlington National Cemetery to honor those who are laid to rest in these hallowed grounds. (U.S. Army photo/Elizabeth Fraser)

Military families can wait up to 49 weeks for burials of loved ones at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) because of the high demand for graveside ceremonies and the increasing mortality rates of older veterans, according to a Pentagon Inspector General's report.

The system in place for scheduling and conducting burials is suited to the task, the IG's report states, but the sheer volume of family requests routinely exceeds "the resources available on a daily basis for the conduct of burials," including honor guards and chapel availability.

In addition, the advanced age of veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam leads to more requests for burials than can be handled on a daily basis, states the IG's report, released last month.

Delays in families' completion of required documents, and decisions regarding the type and timing of burial service, can also add time between the request and burial, according to the report.

As a result, "burial services at the ANC can result in a 6- to 49-week wait from the initial contact to the conduct of the burial ceremony," the IG's report states.

As of last September, there were 3,471 burial requests in process at Arlington -- 3,259 for cremation services and 212 for casketed services, according to the report.

Arlington has the capacity for 30 burials per day, but the military teams available for Full Military Funeral Honors services also have responsibilities for other ceremonies in the National Capital Region and can conduct only about eight per day at ANC, the report states.

The 59-page report examined the operations and management of ANC and the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery (SAHNC) in Washington, D.C. -- the two national cemeteries in the nationwide system of military cemeteries. There are also 36 other cemeteries run by the service branches.

The report found that major reforms at Arlington had corrected the mismanagement that led to scandals over missing markers and missing remains in 2010.

As of late 2018, Arlington was the final resting place for more than 375,000 decedents and had space available for 67,000 more, the report states. The IG's office took a random sample of 553 burials and 145 available spaces and "found no accountability errors in the records."

At SAHNC, the burial site for more than 14,000 veterans, the report found five errors in a random sample of 290 burials and 62 available spaces.

In two cases, the names of the decedents were not on the grave marker at the corresponding location in the cemetery. In two other cases, what were coded as empty plots in the database actually contained decedents.

In the fifth case, the location of the decedent in the database did not match the location of the headstone, according to the report.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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