Arlington Eligibility Changes: Here’s How You Can Have Your Say

Arlington Eligibility Changes: Here’s How You Can Have Your Say
Soldiers conduct modified military funeral honors with funeral escort for Cpl. Henry Phillips, USA, in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery on Aug. 7. (Photo by Elizabeth Fraser/Arlington National Cemetery)

The public comment period for changes to Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) eligibility will open in late summer, a senior DoD official informed MOAA – giving you a chance to make your voice heard on plans to dramatically reduce the number of people who qualify for in-ground burial.


The proposed changes, which can be viewed in full here, are part of an effort to prolong the life of ANC.


MOAA and The Military Coalition, a group of military and veterans advocacy organizations with a combined membership of more than 5.5 million, support DoD’s work to expand ANC. Plans for the southern expansion are well engineered and maximize available contiguous land. Without expansion, ANC would fill up in the next 25 years, according to a senior DoD official.


Unfortunately, if the eligibility changes are approved, many who had planned for an in-ground burial at ANC will have to change plans. ANC staff are eager to point out that VA cemeteries are available. However, full military honors with caisson are not available at most VA cemeteries.


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ANC has the unique mission to render honors at burial and inurnment. These honors are coveted and serve to comfort the grieving and instill pride that our nation is thankful for their loved one’s service and sacrifice.  


A Path Forward

The Military Coalition is concerned with proposed eligibility changes to ANC through the Federal Register rules process. The proposed changes to eligibility are service and mission discriminatory and do not account for all-important military honors for those who would be forced to use a different cemetery.  


These concerns, and proposals to alleviate them, were outlined in an Aug. 14 letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy. In the letter, the coalition recommends grandfathering eligibility to account for those who have already intended ANC to be their final resting place.


The letter also recommends non-contiguous expansion of ANC as the cemetery reaches capacity. This would facilitate burials and inurnments with military honors replicated from ANC, where such individuals had been eligible. 


ANC is running out of room for interments. Non-contiguous federal land is available for expansion of the cemetery, and continuation of military honors as noted above will matter intensely to families who maintain the rare propensity to serve. 


A Bitter Decision

Changes to eligibility for in-ground burial at ANC represent more than a math and geography problem. The proposal will force those who have already made end-of-life plans to make a bitter decision – in some cases, the family will have to decide on behalf of the deceased.  


Consider the impact to a Vietnam veteran with a Bronze Star with V, or a Cold War submariner amassing years of duty underway, a bomber or missile crewmember, and many others who also risked their lives for our nation. The changes proposed will render 20-year retirees ineligible for in-ground burial and the caliber of memorable military honors delivered at ANC.


The Military Coalition is concerned that non-contiguous expansion was not considered. The narrow proposal appears intent on pushing beneficiaries to VA-run cemeteries where ANC-caliber military honors are not afforded.


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Mission and cost avoidance, to the detriment of our military families, sends a signal to our military community that yet another benefit earned through service and sacrifice is being diminished. Grandfathering the currently eligible, alongside non-contiguous expansion, continues this service.  


MOAA and The Military Coalition will continue to monitor the timing for the public comment period, which had been scheduled for Spring 2020 but was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. When the 60-day window opens, we will need your voice.



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About the Author

Lt. Col. Mark Belinsky, USA (Ret)
Lt. Col. Mark Belinsky, USA (Ret)

Belinsky retired in 2019 after serving 22 years, with overseas tours to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Republic of Korea, and Germany. He joined the MOAA team in 2019 as Director, Currently Serving and Retired Affairs.