VA to Host Memorial Day Events Nationwide at National Cemeteries

Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Day
Jackie, left, and Jim Kenny visit the gravesite of their son, U.S. Army Capt. Christopher J. Kenny in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery for Memorial Day, May 30, 2016, in Arlington, Va. (Rachel Larue/U.S. Army)

The 155 national cemeteries managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs will be open from dawn to dusk throughout Memorial Day weekend, and more than 130 will hold ceremonies to mark the day of remembrance for those who died in service to the U.S.

The VA is inviting all veterans, family members, survivors and the public to the ceremonies, which Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Matt Quinn said will "honor those heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice to our country."

"We can never underestimate or under-appreciate the sacrifice made by the brave men and women who died in service to the country. Likewise, it is our duty to show appreciation to our Gold Star family members. We can never repay them for their sacrifices," Quinn said Monday during a call with reporters.

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The VA has overseen national cemeteries for more than 50 years, managing burial sites and 34 soldiers' lots and monuments in 42 states and Puerto Rico. More than 4 million veterans are buried in national cemeteries, with graves ranging from the Revolutionary War to present-day conflicts.

On May 27, VA Secretary Denis McDonough plans to speak at the New York State Veterans Cemetery-Finger Lakes in Waterloo, New York, while Chief of Staff Kimberly Jackson will speak at Wood National Cemetery in Milwaukee.

Deputy Secretary Tanya Bradsher plans to visit Baltimore National Cemetery on May 30, according to the VA.

"This Memorial Day weekend, we encourage veterans and all Americans to join us as we remember and honor our nation's fallen heroes," McDonough said in a statement on Monday. "We are forever indebted to the service members who gave their lives in service to our country, and we will never forget their sacrifice."

Quinn said if veterans or their loved ones can't visit a cemetery in person, they can honor the memory of deceased service members by leaving a tribute on the VA's Veterans Legacy Memorial website.

The site contains pages for nearly 10 million veterans buried at national cemeteries, VA grant-funded cemeteries, cemeteries managed by the Department of Defense including Arlington National Cemetery, U.S. Park Service Cemeteries and private cemeteries where veterans have received a VA-provided grave marker since 1996.

The VA launched the program in 2019 focusing on those buried in national cemeteries. It has plans to include veterans who received grave markers before 1996 as well as those buried in overseas cemeteries managed by the American Battlefield Monuments Commission.

"I think [the Veterans Legacy Memorial] is such an important thing and so now when I speak at Memorial Day events, I ask people to go and post to VLM. I think it's so important to keep that veteran's memory alive, and it's the perfect place to do it," Quinn said.

He added that by the end of the year, the VA expects to allow living veterans who are eligible for VA burial benefits to prepare their own pages with the details of their military service. The aim would be for the pages to go live when the veteran dies.

"We did an informal survey, and it sounds like veterans are interested in doing that," Quinn said.

This Memorial Day will be the last for Quinn as under secretary. He plans to step down at the end of May after three years at the National Cemetery Administration. Quinn said he is proud of his department's accomplishments during his tenure, which included the challenges of facilitating burials through the COVID-19 pandemic.

And he is especially proud, he said, of the 2,400 employees in the National Cemetery Administration.

"Nearly 70% of our team members themselves are veterans, the highest of any federal agency, and whether they are veterans or not, they understand the importance of providing vital honors and dignified burial benefits and working with them has been the highest honor," Quinn said.

Information on ceremonies at national cemeteries can be found on the VA's website. Information on burial benefits can be found online as well or by calling 1-800-827-1000. Information on eligibility can be found at the National Cemetery Administration's "pre-need" website.

Related: VA Wants Vets to Use Their Benefits When Choosing a Final Resting Place

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