MOAA’s work to preserve the national cemetery benefit continues, with a recent meeting between MOAA senior leadership and Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth to discuss the planned eligibility reduction for interment (in-ground burial) at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC). We followed that effort with a briefing to a high-level Navy Retiree Council on the same topic.
While MOAA carries its message to DoD, VA, and congressional leaders, the need for grassroots action remains: Reach out to your elected officials while they are in their home states and districts and ask them to become original co-sponsors on legislation to expand options for honors at a VA cemetery – legislation that could solve problems created by these unjust eligibility changes. In addition to co-sponsors, we seek a lead Republican senator to show bipartisan and bicameral support.
[TAKE ACTION: Ask Your Lawmakers to Preserve the National Cemetery Benefit]
“Arlington National Cemetery in-ground burial will not reach capacity for 42 years with the current standards,” said Gen. Walter L. “Skip” Sharp, USA (Ret), MOAA’s chairman of the board. “This leaves time to develop a new location and to slowly transition while maintaining current eligibility for all those who have planned for in-ground burial at Arlington.”
Proposed Rule Changes in Brief
The draft rule would reduce interment eligibility to those awarded a Silver Star and above or Purple Heart, forcing nearly all veterans currently eligible to change plans or opt for cremation and inurnment in a columbarium at ANC. Unfortunately, the columbarium will reach capacity in the 2040s, according to ANC staff. The hard fact remains -- even with ANC’s Southern Expansion project, burial and columbarium space will run out.
[CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE PRIMER: Arlington National Cemetery]
The “fix” offered by the eligibility changes is anything but – the new rules focus on combat awards as the discriminator for eligibility, which would serve to disqualify many 20-year retirees and nearly all female veterans. Even Vietnam-era veterans who earned the Bronze Star with “V” device for valor would not qualify under the new arrangement.
However, these rule changes, part of the federal rulemaking process, have yet to take effect as they are currently with the Secretary of the Army. Secretary Wormuth told MOAA she is in discussions with the VA on options regarding a report due to Congress regarding eligibility.
MOAA covered the proposed changes as part of a recent legislative briefing for the Secretary of the Navy’s Retiree Council, leading to a lively discussion – some council members were frustrated with, or unaware of, the proposed changes.
“I don’t know where I will be buried if these rules go through,” one member of the council told MOAA.
Though DoD is exploring options with the VA, it can’t sit on the draft rule indefinitely. DoD has committed to keeping military and veterans service organizations informed so that there are no surprises when the rule moves to the Office of Management and Budget, the next step in its finalization.
Organizations such as The Military Coalition (TMC), a group of military and veterans service organizations (including MOAA) representing a combined membership of nearly 5.5 million, have sent letters to Congress to support a long-term solution to protect this benefit. You can read TMC's letter at this link.
Supporting a Solution
There are 155 VA-run national cemeteries, with many adjacent to a military installation. Transforming an existing national cemetery into the next ANC that affords full military honors will preserve the benefit and honor the intent for our veterans.
The Expanding America’s National Cemetery Act will authorize DoD and the VA to transform an existing VA-run national cemetery into the next location that will afford interment with full military honors as ANC reaches capacity. The legislation is pending introduction and needs your support. Reps. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.) and Marc Veasey (D-Texas) in the House and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) have delayed introduction as they seek a Republican lead in the Senate.
Time is running short this legislative year, with many lawmakers focused on midterm elections. Ask your lawmakers to sign on as an original co-sponsor to protect this important benefit. While they are home, ask for an in-person meeting to discuss this problem with your official or state/district director at their local office.
Tell MOAA Your Story
As you reach out to your lawmakers, be sure to let them know if these proposed changes would affect your plans, or those of a family member, for a final resting place. Many veterans may have long-held arrangements, some in place for decades, and could be forced to change these plans based on unjust and unnecessary rules.
You can also tell your story to MOAA to help inform our advocacy. Send information to email@example.com if you would like to join our efforts.
MOAA Looks Out For You
MOAA is committed to protecting the rights of servicemembers and their families. Lend your voice and support these efforts today. Because the larger our voice is, the greater our impact will be.