Army Proposes Limiting Retiree Burials in Arlington National Cemetery

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Soldiers hold folded American flags that will be presented to family members. (Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery)
Soldiers hold folded American flags that will be presented to family members. (Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery)

The Army is proposing limiting the number of burials in Arlington National Cemetery, and retirees may be the first to be affected.

A proposed rule published in the Federal Register seeks public comment on limiting interments, both burials and inurnments, in Arlington National Cemetery to only those who are retired, saw combat, received certain military awards, served as president or vice president or were family members of otherwise qualified individuals.

An inurnment is the placing of a deceased person's cremated remains in an above-ground columbarium or wall; a burial is the placement of a body or ashes into the ground. An interment can refer to either act. There are different rules for who can be buried and who can be inurned in the cemetery; generally, the rules for burial are stricter.

Military retirees and veterans would no longer be eligible for burial in Arlington unless they saw combat and received the Silver Star or above. Those who died on active duty would not be eligible for burial unless their death was related to combat or combat support.

For any veteran to be eligible for interment in Arlington National Cemetery, they may not have received a dishonorable discharge or been convicted of certain crimes.

Who Is Currently Eligible for Interment at Arlington National Cemetery?

Currently, any service member who dies on active duty, a former prisoner of war, highly decorated military member or retiree is eligible for burial in Arlington National Cemetery. Reservist or Guard members who died on active duty for training and all veterans are eligible for inurnment in Arlington.

See: Details about Arlington National Cemetery

Who Will Be Eligible Under the Proposed Rule?

Under the proposed rule, eligibility for burial in Arlington will be limited to:

  • Service members killed in action
  • Service members whose death resulted from preparations or operations related to combat
  • Any service member or veteran who served in combat and was awarded the Purple Heart, Silver Star or above.
  • U.S. presidents or vice presidents
  • Former POWs
  • Qualifying family members of any eligible person

Those eligible for inurnment would include:

  • Anyone eligible for burial
  • Military retirees, or those eligible for retirement
  • Veterans or service members with at least 24 months active duty with qualifying combat service (Combat service requires receipt of combat pay, imminent danger or hostile fire pay, or receipt of a qualifying medal.)
  • Some World War II and Korean War-era veterans
  • Qualifying family members of any eligible person

Politicians would not be eligible unless they are otherwise qualifying veterans or receive an exemption from the rules.

Military retirees would no longer be eligible for burial unless they saw combat and received the Purple Heart, Silver Star or above, and veterans would no longer be eligible for inurnment unless they served in combat. Those who died on active duty would not be eligible for burial unless their death was related to combat or combat support.

Why Is This Change Being Proposed?

Arlington is running out of space.

Without these changes, the Army says that the cemetery will run out of space for new interments by 2041, even if it expanded the size of the cemetery..

As a result of the cemetery running out of space, Public Law 115-232, the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for 2019, directed the secretary of the Army to come up with a plan to revise the criteria for interments at Arlington to preserve its status as an active cemetery well into the future.

The Army says that one percent of the veteran population is currently laid to rest at Arlington every year. In fiscal 2019, this equaled 3,691 new graves. The proposed changes would limit burials to around 700 and inurnments to 1,950 each year.

The Army also says that restricting the eligibility of active-duty members for burial in Arlington to those killed in combat or combat support operations would affect approximately 43 service members each year. Most veterans who have at least one day of active service would remain eligible for above-ground inurnment, and approximately 1,900 retirees who are no longer eligible for burial would remain eligible for inurnments each year.

The Army will accept public comments on this proposal through Nov. 16, 2020. You may submit comments here. See the proposed rule for more details.

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