A recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) publication may add to the confusion some lawmakers face regarding the future of Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) – yet another reason to make your voice heard at this critical stage.
CRS updated its defense primer on ANC in March, highlighting proposed eligibility changes under legal review as part of the federal rule-making process. Of concern is a potentially misleading entry for lawmakers that indicates those who have scheduled ANC to be their final resting place will not be impacted. Per the report, “According to the Army, revised eligibility at ANC will not affect previously scheduled burial services.”
Some lawmakers and their staffs could interpret this statement incorrectly, thinking those who have long planned for ANC as their final resting place would be grandfathered under the old rules. Unfortunately, with no current reservation system, this statement only applies to those who have passed and are awaiting their scheduled date for interment or inurnment. In other words, if the proposals are implemented, many 20-year retirees and other veterans will need to change their long-held end-of-life plans.
But there is a way to continue the honor and prestige of ANC as it reaches capacity: Congress can designate a new national cemetery as part of the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
Setting a Clear Path Forward
While the proposed eligibility changes are under review, current eligibility standards remain. Reaching out to your members of Congress today is key, as members and staffers develop their NDAA recommendations and finalize the House and Senate drafts.
With no change to eligibility, even with the planned southern expansion, ANC will reach capacity by 2050. A 2017 report to Congress presented options, other than reducing eligibility, to maintain current operations.
Option 126.96.36.199 in the report would require legislation to establish a new DoD national cemetery in a new location:
“ANC, as it operates today, cannot endure forever in its current space. Looking 100-200 years into the future, how and where will we honor our Nation’s heroes? Another option, which the Army recognizes would represent a significant change, is establishing 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. Operating ANC as an active burial ground for as long as possible would allow a phase of overlap and continuity while establishing the new space.”
It’s not too late for Congress to intervene. And the path forward may be clearer with a new Defense Advisory Council on Arlington National Cemetery – Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin released all of the council’s members as part of a zero-based review of DoD advisory boards. The old board had supported the eligibility changes.