The new eligibility regulations for Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) could be published later this year, but there’s still time for Congress to step in and take much-needed corrective action.
Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director of the Office of Army Cemeteries, told lawmakers at a May 5 hearing the final regulations are expected to be approved and published in the Federal Register this fall. The proposed eligibility changes would dramatically reduce interment eligibility to those who receive a Purple Heart or are awarded a Silver Star and above, and would force many 20-year retirees to change their end-of-life plans.
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The FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act required the secretary of the Army to submit a proposal to extend the life of the cemetery by 150 years, a timeframe selected because the cemetery was 150 years old.
MOAA members were very vocal during the public comment period, describing the change as discriminatory by service, specialty, and gender. The public comments are going through a legal review.
The next steps for the proposed rule change are:
- Army staff review
- Approval by the secretary of the Army
- Staffing through the armed services
- Approval by the secretary of defense
- Interagency review through the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)
- Publish in the Federal Register
MOAA discussed the significance of the proposed rule change in a recent meeting with an Army senior leader. It is a sensitive subject not lost on military senior leaders, but because of the language in the 2019 NDAA, only Congress has the authority to make a much-needed course correction via a change in law.
MOAA’s three priorities for ANC eligibility and expansion moving forward:
- Ensure 20-year retirees now eligible for ANC will not have to change end-of-life plans. They deserve full military honors at our national cemetery (the VA cemetery system does not afford full military honors) and should be grandfathered in regardless of eligibility changes.
- Provide full consideration of noncontiguous expansion for ANC, which was directed by Congress in Public Law 114-158 (approved May 20, 2016) but was not fully considered. The law directed “considerations for additional expansion opportunities beyond the current boundaries of the cemetery.”
- Set a clear path forward for the next national cemetery: ANC will run out of room no matter what, and designating the next cemetery that affords full military honors is a matter of national conscience. If the current eligibility rules remain, ANC would reach capacity in 2050, leaving ample time to plan for the future.
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The 2017 ANC report to Congress outlining the capacity concerns also provides a course of action that would address the challenge of addressing space at ANC: “[E]stablishing a new Department of Defense-run national cemetery in another location. This would mean building a new cemetery in a suitable place that would offer the same burial honors as ANC. While it is impossible to recreate the aesthetic appeal and history of ANC, this new cemetery could grow to become iconic over time, in the same way that ANC has gradually evolved over the past 150 years.”
MOAA will continue to engage Congress on Arlington National Cemetery, and we need your voice as constituents. Reach out to your lawmakers and ask them to include language in the FY 22 NDAA that would require DoD to designate the next national cemetery.
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