New York State Funeral Directors Association

Arlington National Cemetery is a national symbol of the reverence bestowed upon those who serve America in the armed forces.

There are as many as 30 funeral services taking place there every weekday and another 10 on Saturdays.

At the current rate, this 152-year-old cemetery could run out of room in as few as 25 years.

Ideas are being sought and major changes are being evaluated to keep this final resting place of about 400,000 people operating into the future.

According to a report issued by the Department of Defense, Arlington National Cemetery could run out of room before 2050 if it continues to operate under current rules and conditions.

If it were filled to capacity, there would be no room for current veterans fighting in the War on Terrorism and in battlegrounds of Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

According to the report, there are three primary options to ponder: change eligibility so fewer people can be buried there; expanding the size of the cemetery or considering “alternative approaches.”

The entire project remains in the study phase and a first round of public input has been heard.

So far, the study has detailed a variety of changes to consider, with the goal of extending Arlington National Cemetery’s use for another 150 years.

Success will likely mean a combination of all the changes being put forth as options.

None of these options are considered recommendations, according to the report.

They are examples of steps that could be taken to achieve the goal.

ELIGIBILITY

Restricting eligibility could extend the cemetery’s lifespan – the fewer people allowed to be interred there, the longer it would last.Snow falls on Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia, Dec. 9, 2017. (U.S. Army photo by Elizabeth Fraser/ Arlington National Cemetery / released)

The most extreme change would be to refine eligibility so that only those who are killed in action and those who receive the Medal of Honor can be buried there.

Currently, Veterans are eligible for either in-ground burial or columbarium inurnment if they die on active duty or if they received the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, The Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star or the Purple Heart during their service.

Also eligible for both types of disposition are former Prisoners of War who died on November 30, 1993 or afterwards.

Veterans with an honorable discharge who chooses to be cremated can be inurned in a columbarium there.

Spouses of these veterans and eligible dependents are also buried at Arlington – in the same grave site or niche as the veteran.

More-detailed ideas on eligibility, outlined in the report, include requiring at least two years of active duty service for a veteran to be buried there.

Changes could also be refined based on whether the veteran wants to be buried in the ground or inurned above-ground.

The increase in preference for cremation has worked to lessen the pressure on the cemetery’s growing population.

According to the report, 52 percent of those laid to rest at Arlington chose cremation in 2013, compared with 36 percent in the year 2000.

So far, the options to be considered related to changing eligibility include:

  • Restricting eligibility to those with two years of active duty service
  • Basing eligibility for retirees on the number of years of service
  • Allowing only those killed in action, those who die on active duty or those with qualifying awards.
  • Restricting eligibility to those who are killed in action or receive the Medal of Honor
  • Refining eligibility restrictions only for those who choose in-ground burial

SPACE CONSIDERATIONS

Increasing the size of Arlington National Cemetery, currently at about 624 acres, is another idea that could boost its lifespan.

An expansion underway, called the Millennium Project, will make 27 more acres available. Another project being planned would add roughly 38 more acres to it.

But neither, once complete, would suffice to continue operations for another 150 years, according to the report.

There are 448 acres of government land adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery and another 65 acres of private land – so pursuing expansion there is a possibility.

This option, however, is expensive and time-consuming – all of that government land around it is developed and what’s there would have to be moved.

Another option: Build a new cemetery where the same burial options would be available to veterans.

This option would take years of planning, require land selection and purchase and development.

ALTERNATIVES

The third primary option is to consider different ways of using the current land. Building more columbaria would help alleviate the space crunch.

So, too, would the option of shrinking grave sites from the current five feet by 10 feet, to three feet by eight feet.

Green burial options could also free up some space, such as planting trees atop in-ground burial sites.

A memorial garden for scattering ashes is another possible choice.

With its history extending more than a century, Arlington National Cemetery is indeed a monument to America’s respect and reverence for veterans, so any changes will result in major discussion and deliberation.

People can follow along with progress by checking the Arlington National Cemetery website periodically.


EdsPhotoEdward Munger Jr.
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association