Military pursuing new eligibility rules for burial at Arlington National Cemetery

Military pursuing new eligibility rules for burial at Arlington National Cemetery
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U.S. military officials are seeking to curtail the number of individuals eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery in Northern Virginia, saying the push is part of an effort to keep the site open as an active burial ground for another 150 years.

The Defense Department hopes to limit below-ground burial sites to those killed in action, those who received the Silver Star or a higher honor, Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, veterans who served as dignitaries, and U.S. presidents and vice presidents, according to a new proposal from acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyOvernight Defense: Trump's battle with Pentagon poses risks in November | Lawmakers launch Fort Hood probe | Military members can't opt out of tax deferral Lawmakers launch investigation into Fort Hood after 28th death this year Overnight Defense: China aims to double nuclear arsenal | Fort Hood commander removed after string of deaths MORE.

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The proposal, yet to be finalized through a public rulemaking process, is part of an ongoing effort to maintain the cemetery as an active burial site for veterans. The Army, which oversees the cemetery, has spent more than two years looking for ways to expand the site and keep it open longer.

If the rules are left unchanged, the cemetery “will be closed to new interments by the mid-2050s – even for Medal of Honor recipients,” according to a service statement on the new rules.

“Arlington National Cemetery is a national shrine for all Americans, but especially those who have served our great nation,” McCarthy said in the statement. “We must ensure it can honor those we have lost for many years to come.”

Fewer than 95,000 burial sites are left at Arlington National Cemetery, established 154 years ago during the Civil War. The Army is planning an expansion project to add another 37 acres to the site, but with nearly 22 million living active service members and veterans now eligible for plots, the cemetery will quickly run out of space.

In addition to the newly proposed criteria, the Army would also have the cemetery preserve 1,000 gravesites for current and future Medal of Honor recipients.

The proposal also includes new criteria for veterans eligible for storage of cremated remains at above-ground structures. Those would be open to any World War II veterans, military retirees, veterans who served at least two years and who saw combat as well as veterans “who also served out of uniform as a government official and made significant contributions to the nation’s security at the highest levels of public service.”

The Army’s statement notes that the changes will not affect previously scheduled burials or those set to happen before the new rules are in place, a process expected to take at least nine months.

“Additionally, the proposed revisions at [Arlington National Cemetery] will not affect veterans’ burial benefits or veteran eligibility at Department of Veterans Affairs national cemeteries and state veterans cemeteries,” according to the statement.