Budget Request for Arlington Cemetery Nearly Triples Amid Plans for Major Expansion

Airman places an American flag in Arlington National Cemetery.
U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Michael Hester, ceremonial guardsman U.S. Air Force Honor Guard, places an American flag in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., May 27, 2021. (U.S. Air Force/Tech. Sgt. Logan Carlson)

Arlington National Cemetery would see its budget nearly triple in fiscal 2022 for a planned expansion that would connect it to the Air Force Memorial.

The Army's budget proposal calls for Arlington to receive $228 million, up from $81.8 million last year, for its southern expansion project -- an effort that would add 80,000 burial and inurnment sites to the historic cemetery.

The project has been in the works for nearly a decade. In 2012, the original plan proposed a land swap between Arlington County and the federal government for a road that runs between the cemetery and the memorial, as well as surrounding acreage needed for the realignment of a major county thoroughfare. The area involved is near the Air Force Memorial, including the former site of the Naval Annex, between the Pentagon and Gate 1 of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.

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Instead, the Army decided to acquire the county- and locally owned property through eminent domain. With the land acquisition and the budget boost, the cemetery finally would be able to start the project.

"The first phase of construction will begin in late summer of 2021, with the start of the 'Defense Access Roads Project,'" said John Harlow, media relations officer for Arlington National Cemetery, referring to the portion of the project that calls for realigning area roadways to accommodate the expansion. "The project is expected to ... be completed by early 2027."

The new project will connect the cemetery to the Air Force Memorial, similar to the way it abuts the Marine Corps War Memorial along its western boundary.

The 639-acre cemetery contains the graves of more than 400,000 service members and military dependents; it currently has space remaining for fewer than another 84,000 people. It previously added 30,000 spaces -- in-ground interments of bodies or cremated remains and above-ground inurnments of ashes -- in a 12-year, $103 million expansion into the northwestern portion of Fort Myer. That project saw its first burials in September 2018.

Even with the expansions, the cemetery is expected to run out of space by the mid-2060s. To further extend Arlington's life as an active cemetery, the Army is moving to limit eligibility, with a final decision on the changes expected this fall, Harlow said.

Currently, service members who die on active duty, former prisoners of war, military retirees and those who are highly decorated can be buried in the ground at Arlington. Reserve and National Guard members who die on active duty during training are eligible for inurnment -- their ashes being placed in a wall or columbarium, as are all veterans.

Under the proposed rule change, those eligible for burial would be limited to service members killed in action; those whose deaths are related to combat operations or preparation for combat; service members or veterans who earned the Purple Heart or Silver Star and above; U.S. presidents and vice presidents; former prisoners of war; and any qualifying family members of those listed above.

Those eligible for inurnment would include military retirees, veterans or service members with at least 24 months' active duty with qualifying combat service; certain World War II and Korean War-era veterans; and some family members.

Along with the proposed $141 million boost for the project, the budget would provide increased funding for operation, maintenance and construction at both Arlington and the Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to correct when Arlington is expected to run out of space following its expansion and how many spaces it has remaining.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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