The number of available spaces for burial at Arlington National Cemetery is getting alarmingly low with less than 85,000 plots left, but Army officials are set to reveal rule changes to burial eligibility that may restrict which veterans can be laid to rest in the military cemetery in an effort to relieve some of the strain on the limited space, in addition to expanding the cemetery by 80,000 spaces.
While testifying in front of the House Appropriations Committee earlier this month, Executive Director of Army National Military Cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery Karen Durham-Aguilera said she is anticipating the changes in the next several months, but wouldn’t specify if the rules will tighten or loosen eligibility restrictions.
“We continue to explore all viable options to ensure Arlington National Cemetery continues to honor our nation’s heroes for generations to come,” she said.
“It’s really an impossible problem for us. The eligible population is more than 22 million … currently today, we have less than 85,000 spaces.”
In 2019, Army officials suggested limiting below-ground burials to combat heroes, battle casualties and notable dignitaries, while other veterans could still be eligible for cremated above-ground placement in cemetery structures, USA Today reported.
The proposed changes were widely criticized, with almost 2,000 individuals and advocacy groups writing public comments on the issue, suggesting that the move could be perceived as valuing specific military experiences over others.
Roughly 400,000 individuals are currently buried at Arlington and each year at least 7,000 more are interred in the cemetery.
According to Durham-Aguilera, officials need around $140 million in extra appropriations for fiscal year 2022 to be approved by Congress in order to add just over 80,000 new spaces to the site as part of the cemetery’s southern expansion project.
“Expansion alone will not allow Arlington National Cemetery to remain open to new interments well into the future,” she warned, noting limitations due to the Potomac River and land scarcity as the Virginia suburbs continue to grow.
“Without changes to eligibility, Arlington National Cemetery will run out of space for new burials in the early 2040s or the mid-2060s with the construction of the Southern Expansion project, even for those service members who are killed in action or are recipients of the Medal of Honor.”
If eligibility changes are implemented, officials believe Arlington will remain an active burial site for over 150 years.
“Arlington National Cemetery is a national shrine for all Americans, but especially those who have served our great nation,” acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said in a statement. “We must ensure it can honor those we have lost for many years to come.”