The public comment period for proposed changes to eligibility for burial at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) opened Sept. 15 and runs through Nov. 16. The proposal up for comment would dramatically reduce the number of people who qualify for in-ground burial, forcing many families to change long-held plans.
MOAA already has weighed in with DoD and Army leadership regarding the changes, and will continue to engage as the process continues. Here are some issues at the heart of those communications:
Honoring All Service
The proposed changes are service- and mission-discriminatory. They risk communicating a diminished value of career-long service for those who were not involved in close combat and injured by the enemy, but who could have shared equal risks in combat, or in the air or at sea.
MOAA and The Military Coalition – a group of military and veterans service organizations representing a combined 5.5 million-plus membership – outlined this and other concerns in an Aug. 14 letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy. MOAA is a co-chair of the 35-member TMC.
In the letter, the coalition recommends grandfathering eligibility to account for those who have already intended ANC to be their final resting place. The proposal also leaves concern that political appointees maintain eligibility.
Without maintaining eligibility for 20-year retirees, 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.
Full Military Honors and Non-Contiguous Expansion
Although VA cemeteries are available for those who would be ineligible for in-ground ANC burial under the new regulations, full military honors with caisson are not available at most VA cemeteries. These coveted honors serve to comfort the grieving; they instill pride and show our nation is thankful for their loved one’s service and sacrifice.
MOAA is concerned the proposed eligibility changes do not account for these all-important military honors. One solution: Non-contiguous federal land is available for expansion of the cemetery, which would allow continuation of military honors for the benefit of families who maintain the rare propensity to serve.
MOAA is concerned that Public Law 114-158, passed by Congress in May 2016 and requiring exploration of non-contiguous expansion beyond the current ANC boundaries, was not considered. The current, narrow proposal appears intent on pushing beneficiaries to VA-run cemeteries where ANC-caliber military honors are not afforded.
A Better Planning and Implementation Process
Planners used an arbitrary 150-year time horizon when considering the extension of the cemetery’s life, covering the next five generations. That’s too long of a window to offer meaningful predictability – 150 years ago, we had 37 states. Changing the planning criteria to three generations will cover the next 90 years, where it is possible that non-contiguous expansion can facilitate current cemetery operations.
Also, a protracted implementation period of three to four years for changes to ANC could afford time to create a reservation system to gauge intent for those currently eligible, and to examine the creation of ANC annexes through non-contiguous expansion. Congressional approval and oversight for the final determination is needed to ensure the intent of Public Law 114-158 law was met.
The Bottom Line
Changes to eligibility for in-ground burial at ANC represent more than a math and geography problem. MOAA and The Military Coalition stand ready to work with DoD and the Army to preserve this sacred honor, but your voice carries weight in this process.
It’s more important than ever to make sure you’re in the know and your military benefits are protected.