WASHINGTON — Tough choices lie ahead for the caretakers of Arlington National Cemetery — the hallowed grounds are beginning to reach capacity, and options are being considered to preserve available space.
At the current rate, the cemetery will run out of room for burials in the early 2040s.
“There are some things that can be done that would significantly restrict who is eligible and therefore extend the life of the cemetery … over 100 years,” said Arlington National Cemetery’s Superintendent Kate Kelley.
“The question on the table is: Does the nation want that for Arlington, and are we willing to make the tough choices that it’s going to take if we’re going to do that?”
Efforts to expand the cemetery’s footprint are underway. There are current discussions with the state and county to purchase 37 adjacent acres, but Kelley said that land would only add an additional 10 years of capacity.
The two largest groups responsible for filling capacity are people who served active duty but didn’t retire, as well as 2 million military retirees.
“Those two groups are the ones that are going to allow the remaining space in Arlington to be available well into the future,” Kelley said.
A process underway for the past two years to consider solutions has involved stakeholders such as veterans, active-duty personnel, military families, Congress, service organizations and the public.
Among the findings from a preliminary survey conducted in 2017:
- Ninety-four percent of respondents want the cemetery to stay active well into the future.
- Nearly 50 percent who favor expansion also recognize the need to modify eligibility.
And, if expansion wasn’t possible:
- Seventy percent support restricting eligibility criteria.
- Ninety percent in favor of restricting eligibility want killed-in-action and medal-of-honor recipients to remain eligible.
Kelley expects a new survey to be posted to the cemetery’s website within a few weeks. Feedback will be collected through March or April.
The advisory committee that’s collecting data on preferred cemetery options will then prepare recommendations for the secretary of the Army and secretary of defense for their approval.