Proposed Revised Eligibility Criteria
On September 25, 2019, the Acting Secretary of the Army announced proposed changes to eligibility criteria at Arlington National Cemetery. This began 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 following revised eligibility criteria updates were made on September 15, 2020, when the proposed rule was published and the changes more clearly defined.
For below-ground interment:
Killed in action, to include repatriated remains of service members
Award recipients of the Silver Star and above who also have armed conflict service
Recipients of the Purple Heart
Any service member whose death results from “preparations or operations related to combat”, as defined in Section 553.1 of the proposed rule.
Former prisoners of war
Presidents and Vice Presidents of the United States
Veterans with armed conflict service who also served out of uniform as a government official in a position of significant governmental responsibility, as defined in Section 553.1 of the proposed rule.
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 for interment
- Veterans who have served a minimum of two years on active duty and who have served in armed conflict
- Veterans without armed conflict service who have also served out of uniform as a government official in a position of significant governmental responsibility, as defined in Section 553.1 of the proposed rule.
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. Why are changes to eligibility at Arlington National Cemetery necessary?
A. There are currently just over 79,000 burial opportunities with over 22 million active duty service members, retirees and veterans living today. Arlington National Cemetery will run out of space for new burials without changes to eligibility by the year 2041, or the year 2060 with the approximately 80,000 additional opportunities gained with Southern Expansion.
Q. Who is directing changes to eligibility?
The Secretary of the Army was required by the FY19 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to establish revised interment eligibility criteria by Sept. 30, 2019.
Q. Who is likely to be most affected by pending changes to eligibility?
A. This transition will have the most impact on military retirees, who are currently the largest eligible population for in ground interment/inurnment. Those retirees who meet the requirements of revised eligibility will still be eligible for in-ground interment. Retirees who do not meet the revised eligibility requirements will remain eligible for above-ground inurnment, or they may be buried with military funeral honors at one of the VA/NCA cemeteries across the country.
Q. What is the proposed eligibility criteria based on? Did it consider gender, age or type of service?
A. The proposed eligibility criteria resulted from years of study to address the capacity challenge at ANC. While interment eligibility at ANC has changed 14 times over the past 158 years, the last significant change to eligibility prior to today’s announcement happened in 1980. Revised eligibility is not discriminatory based on gender, age or branch of service, based on the definition of armed conflict service.
Q. Will revised eligibility criteria have any impact to the level of military honors rendered during a service?
A. No. Revised criteria does not impact the level of military funeral honors rendered at graveside.
Q. What other options will veterans and families have?
A. Revised eligibility at ANC will not affect veteran eligibility at the 155 national cemeteries and additional 138 state, territorial and tribal veterans’ cemeteries across the nation. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 93 percent of veterans living in the United States have access to a free veterans’ burial option within 75 miles of where they live. Three of these cemeteries -- Culpeper, Quantico and Baltimore national cemeteries – are located within 50 miles of ANC.
Q. Will implementation of the new criteria impact previously scheduled services?
A. Revised criteria will only affect cases initiated after the implementation date. Additionally, the proposed revisions will not affect veterans’ burial beneﬁts or veteran eligibility at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ 155 national cemeteries and 138 state, territorial, and tribal cemeteries.
Q. Have there been changes to interment eligibility at the cemetery in the past?
Interment eligibility at ANC has changed 14 times in the past 158 years, with the last significant change in 1980. As it has done throughout its history, ANC must again restrict eligibility in order to allow the nation to honor future generations for their sacrifices.
Q. What kind of public input did you receive throughout this process?
A. The Army has worked diligently to engage key stakeholders as well as the general public. Our public survey yielded more than 250,000 responses. The results of
our national surveys are statistically significant, offering a compelling look at opinions and attitudes of veterans, family members and active duty populations.
Additionally, the Department of the Army published revised eligibility criteria in the Federal Register for public comment from September 15, 2020 to November 16, 2020. The public comment period resulted in 1,965 public responses received, containing 2,253 individual comments for adjudication.
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