Arlington National Cemetery Options Getting Clearer

January 27, 2017

An advisory committee suggests eligibility restrictions as a solution to the cemetery's capacity problems.

Retiree eligibility, active duty requirements, and spatial and fiscal constraints are all topics of discussion for delaying maxing capacity at Arlington National Cemetery, Va. If nothing changes, there won’t be space for anyone – let alone those meeting exceptional eligibility standards – within the next few decades. Potential courses of action going forward are taking more solid form.

The Arlington National Cemetery Advisory Committee held a public meeting this week to provide an update on burial eligibility recommendations and cemetery capacity forecasts, among other business. The latest report further solidified the likely recommendations the committee will provide to the secretary of the Army.

The advisory committee is tasked with finding solutions to the rapidly shrinking available space at the cemetery and suggesting ways to prolong the maximum capacity point as far into the future as possible. The committee has now developed two potential courses of action, which largely fall in line with suggestions from previous reports.

Current rules permit anyone with an honorable discharge and with at least one day of active duty service to be interred or inurned at ANC. That's a looser eligibility standard than used for other veteran cemeteries, which can require at least 24 months' service.

Both suggested courses of action include a provision to adopt the 24 months’ active duty requirement. Further, both potential courses of actions could include changing of eligibility criteria to include only those service members killed in action and/or recipients of the Medal of Honor. However, if approved, those restrictions would not be implemented for another 10 to 20 years.

The cemetery is undergoing two expansion projects to add 27 acres, which will be completed next year. Plans underway (but not finalized) are expected to add another 40 acres, to be completed in 2022.

Both courses of action presume completion of this program, but one plan suggests a possible transfer of adjacent federal lands for further expansion. Maximum capacity projections, in accordance with the three-phase courses of action, were included in this week’s release.

Jan 2017 ANC Graphic

The committee still intends to do a thorough analysis of both possible courses of action, after which a final decision is to be provided to the secretary of the Army. The details of that analysis will come in a future report.

The final recommendation from the advisory committee will inform the secretary of the Army’s decision in his report submission to the House and Senate Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs Committees. That submission deadline passed in November of 2016, as committee deliberation was delayed by due discourse. The report specifically will include the official:

  • Estimated date the cemetery will reach maximum capacity
  • Recommended actions to ensure maximum capacity is not reached until well into the future

We appreciate the full commitment to exploring all potential courses of action on this issue, and eagerly await the advisory committee and secretary of the Army’s final report to Congress.

“MOAA would like to see ANC remain open and active well into the future. We don't have a problem reserving a set number of plots for future Medal of Honor recipients and combat deaths. But we don't think an 80-year old retiree who's made plans for Arlington burial should lose eligibility to reserve space for an active duty member who dies in a car accident 150 or 200 years from now,” said MOAA Government Relations VP Col. Dan Merry, USAF (Ret).

“A lot can change over 50 or 75 years. The Pentagon hadn't been built 75 years ago, and lots of military installations have been BRACed over the last 35. MOAA and other military and veterans’ associations have told the committee we think all options for further expansion should be pursued before we start turning away older vets who planned for ANC interment. We know procuring land can take a long time, so that process should start sooner rather than later.”

MOAA recognizes how important this issue is to our members and will keep you informed as we learn more on the subject.