UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 15, 2020
Today, the Secretary of the Army announced the opening of the 60-day public comment period for the proposed changes to eligibility criteria for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. This is the next step in the federal rule making process required to gather public input to proposed changes to the cemetery’s eligibility criteria.
The proposed rule will allow new changes to eligibility criteria which will keep the cemetery functioning as an active burial ground well into the future, defined as 150 years.
The Secretary of the Army and Arlington National Cemetery want to ensure transparency and public participation in this process. We are providing the general public with an opportunity to comment on the draft rule that will change the eligibility requirements at our nation’s most hallowed grounds.
The public comment period ends on November 16, 2020.
• Click here for the press release.
• To make an official public comment, please go to the Federal Register notice: federalregister.gov/d/2020-17801.
Proposed Revised Eligibility Criteria
The Acting Secretary of the Army announced proposed changes to eligibility criteria at Arlington National Cemetery. This begins the process for the federal government to prepare for the public rule making process which includes public feedback to the proposed changes.
The nation’s premiere military cemetery is at a critical crossroads in its history. Nearly all of the 22 million living armed forces members and veterans are eligible for less than 95,000 remaining burial spaces within these hallowed grounds.
A planned Southern Expansion project will add 37 acres of additional burial space for the nation’s veterans. Southern Expansion includes the area nearest the Air Force Memorial and a part of the former grounds of the Navy Annex. However, expansion alone will not keep Arlington National Cemetery open to new interments well into the future. Without changes to eligibility, Arlington National Cemetery will be full for first burials by the mid-2050s.
“The hard reality is we are running out of space. To keep Arlington National Cemetery open and active well into the future means we have to make some tough decisions that restrict the eligibility,” said Executive Director of Army National Military Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery Karen Durham-Aguilera.
The Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act directed the Secretary of the Army to establish revised eligibility criteria to keep the cemetery functioning as an active burial ground well into the future, defined as 150 years.
The Secretary established imperatives to recognize the individual’s sacriﬁce, service and impact to the nation’s security. The proposed eligibility criteria honors commitment to military service and is equitable across branches and eras of service. Additionally, any change should be easily understood, fair and consistent with Arlington National Cemetery’s mission.
Years of outreach have guided the decision-making process. Arlington National Cemetery and its stakeholders – military and veteran service organizations, military, government leaders, Congress, veterans, military service members and their family members – have been working this issue very closely.
“This has been a very lengthy and deliberate process that has been done in the public domain,” said former Superintendent of Arlington National Cemetery Katharine Kelley. “We have a Federal Advisory Committee at Arlington National Cemetery, an independent body mandated by Congress to look at very substantive issues related to the cemetery, and they have looked at the question of eligibility for many years,” said Kelley.
The cemetery has maintained an active and ongoing dialogue with military and veteran service organizations over two and a half years of thoughtful deliberation and public outreach. Additionally, the cemetery has conducted public surveys that garnered input and feedback from these important stakeholders, as well the active duty component who serves today.
The cemetery received more than 250,000 responses to these national surveys, and the results offered a compelling look at the opinions and attitudes of veterans, family members and active duty populations. Ninety-five percent of respondents want Arlington to not only remain open, but remain open and active well into the future.
“We’ve made extensive efforts to listen and gather input as part of this process, and that feedback we have received has been part of the Secretary’s deliberations and part of our discussions going forward,” said Kelley.
Now that the Secretary has established the proposed criteria, once cleared, the Department of the Army will publish a draft rule in the Federal Register for public comment, adjudicate public comments and publish the final rule. Federal rulemaking is a deliberative process and is expected to take a minimum of nine months.
“This is a lengthy process, but it’s another opportunity to have a say in what the future of Arlington National Cemetery should be for our nation,” said Durham-Aguilera.
In addition to preserving 1,000 gravesites for current and future Medal of Honor recipients, the proposed revised eligibility criteria for those who honorably serve the nation are as follows:
For below-ground interment:
- Killed in action, to include repatriated remains of service members
- Award recipients of the Silver Star and above who also served in combat
- Recipients of the Purple Heart
- Combat-related service deaths while conducting uniquely military activities
- Former prisoners of war
- Presidents and vice presidents of the United States
- Veterans with combat service who also served out of uniform as a government official and made significant contributions to the nation's security at the highest levels of public service.
For above-ground inurnment:
- World War II-era veterans, to include legislated active duty designees
- Retirees from the armed forces who are eligible to receive retired pay but are not otherwise eligible for interment
- Veterans who have served a minimum of two years on active duty and who have served in combat
- Veterans without combat service who also served out of uniform as a government oﬃcial and made signiﬁcant contributions to the nation’s security at the highest levels of public service
Eventual implementation of revised eligibility will not affect previously scheduled services at Arlington National Cemetery. Additionally, the proposed revisions will not affect veterans’ burial beneﬁts or veteran eligibility at the Department of Veterans Affairs' nearly 150 national cemeteries and 116 state veterans cemeteries.
Arlington National Cemetery will continue to actively engage stakeholders in the important decisions impacting the future of the cemetery.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: I'm a (branch) veteran of (number of) years who served in (campaign/location), will I still be eligible?
A. We are unable to discuss specific criteria or scenarios. This is the beginning of a lengthy process which includes soliciting public feedback to the proposed changes. We encourage the public to add their perspective when the draft rule in published in the Federal Register in approximately nine months.
Q: Are spouses still eligible to be interred with their service member?
A: The proposed revised eligibility criteria does not exclude spouses. Currently, spouses are considered derivatively eligible if space is available in the same gravesite of the eligible veteran.
Q: What are the current eligibility criteria?
A: For information regarding current eligibility requirements, please reference our fact sheet on eligibility.
Q. Do the proposed changes impact my eligibility at other veteran cemeteries?
A. No. Revised eligibility at ANC will not affect Veteran eligibility at the nearly 150 Veterans Affairs national cemeteries and 116 state veterans cemeteries.
Q. How do I make an official public comment?
A. Please go to the Federal Register notice to make an official public comment: federalregister.gov/d/2020-17801. The public comment period ends on November 16, 2020.
Any media inquiries related to the announcement should call our Public Affairs Office at 703-614-0024. For your reference, see the press releases related to eligibility, national dialogue, expansion and our national survey below:
To download the national dialogue survey results, click the links below.
2017 National Dialogue Survey Results
2018 National Dialogue Survey Results
You can find photos of Arlington National Cemetery for use at our Flickr page: Flickr.com/ArlingtonNatl
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Army and Arlington National Cemetery senior leaders continue the dialogue on the future of the cemetery with veterans and military service organizations at an outreach open house, September 25, 2019.