The public comment period for proposed eligibility changes to Arlington National Cemetery may be closed, but the work of MOAA and The Military Coalition to shape the final regulation is far from over.
MOAA members made significant contributions to the 1,965 comments on the proposed rule change at the Federal Register before the Nov. 16 deadline. These comments highlighted many of the same concerns MOAA and The Military Coalition, a group of military and veterans service organizations representing a combined 5.5 million-plus membership, have communicated to DoD leadership, the Arlington National Cemetery Advisory Council, and lawmakers. MOAA and the coalition will continue these efforts until we can secure grandfathering for those currently eligible and a concerted effort by the Army and DoD to secure noncontiguous expansion of the cemetery.
In the COVID-19 environment, it is important to call, in addition to writing, your lawmaker. Congressional staff members have already indicated It is not too early to reach out to your elected officials and voice your concerns; you can do so via MOAA’s toll-free Capitol Switchboard: 1-866-272-6622.
Some important talking points regarding the proposed changes:
- A national cemetery that provides full military honors is an enduring mission that should not be reduced as a cost-saving measure.
- The proposed eligibility changes are discriminatory by service, gender, and military specialty.
- This rule change would force many retirees to alter plans made over 30 years ago and would represent another broken promise made to veterans and their families.
- Grandfathering those currently eligible is a matter of national conscience. We owe our best efforts to those who have already earned eligibility through their service.
- When the cemetery runs out of room, expansion will be necessary. The 114th Congress passed Public Law 114–158 in 2016 requiring exploration for expansion beyond the boundaries of the current cemetery. When it comes to the process that resulted in the current proposal, expansion was not considered with the same fervor as reducing eligibility.
It likely will take more than a year to reconcile and resolve comments and legal challenges as part of the federal rule-making process before changes of eligibility are implemented. Existing eligibility standards will remain in effect during that time. It may take language in next year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to change the trajectory of the Army’s current strategy for Arlington National Cemetery.
As the process moves from public comment into the halls of Congress, MOAA’s path forward includes:
- Seeking meetings with leaders on the Hill and in DoD, especially those new to their positions in the coming year, to express member concerns with the changes and to ensure the 1,965 comments on the regulation were heard and understood.
- Working alongside The Military Coalition to amplify messaging efforts within and outside the military and veteran community.
- Building support among House and Senate lawmakers for inclusion of language in the FY 2022 NDAA that supports MOAA’s goals.
Every call and letter can make a difference. MOAA will continue to keep its members informed on these efforts via The MOAA Newsletter and regular updates at MOAA.org.