- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Army says it is ensuring that American heroes will continue to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery for the next 150 years by instituting stricter eligibility requirements for interment at the military graveyard.

Arlington National Cemetery is a national shrine for all Americans, but especially those who have served our great nation,” acting Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy said Wednesday in a written statement. “We must ensure it can honor those we have lost for many years to come.”

Mr. McCarthy announced a plan to restrict burial eligibility at Arlington to preserve the cemetery’s shrinking number of gravesites for future generations. The Army estimates the cemetery will run out of space in the 2050s if no changes are made.

The plan calls for reserving burial sites for the remains of Medal of Honor recipients, former prisoners of war, personnel killed in action, recipients of awards for valor, veterans who matriculate to high-ranking government posts, presidents and vice presidents. The cremated remains of other veterans could still rest at Arlington in above-ground urns.

Currently, service members who retire from active duty and are eligible for retirement pay automatically are eligible for burial at Arlington. About 22 million living service members and veterans are eligible for burial at Arlington, the Army said.

More than 400,000 people are buried in the cemetery, and only 95,000 burial spaces remain, though a planned expansion will add 37 acres of burial space and more than 10 years of life to the cemetery under the existing rules.

The American Legion acknowledged “difficult decisions” to lengthen Arlington National Cemetery’s lifespan, but the legion — one of the nation’s largest war veterans groups — called on the Army to do more.

“Simple restrictions is not the only answer, and we also call on the Army to incorporate ways to maximize existing space while considering expansion of the cemetery to allow for more veterans to rest on this hallowed ground,” American Legion National Commander James W. “Bill” Oxford said in a statement to The Washington Times.

The proposed rules will now go through the federal rule-making process and published in the Federal Register. The rules could go into effect within nine months if no comments require that the rules be revised. The Army already has received feedback in a survey from more than 250,000 people over the last two years. The Army says roughly three-quarters of respondents have favored restricting burial eligibility.

The Department of Veterans Affairs oversees 137 cemeteries in 40 states and 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites. A number of states maintain veterans’ cemeteries, as well.

But the Army administers and manages the 624 acres of Arlington National Cemetery, with its white tombstones on sprawling greenery adjacent to the Potomac River in Virginia. The Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment conducts funerals at Arlington and provides a 24-hour guard of the cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The cemetery’s founding dates to the Civil War, when Union soldiers commandeered the estate of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee overlooking the Potomac River and the nation’s capital to bury the war dead.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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