ARLINGTON, Va. — The struggle for planners at Arlington National Cemetery is figuring out what’s next as the Virginia cemetery inches closer to capacity.
One option to make the cemetery open for new burials long into future is to change who is eligible to make the cemetery their final resting place.
Army Maj. Shannon Way, a strategic planner at Arlington National Cemetery, said the public has taken interest in this topic.
Arlington National Cemetery saw more than 7,000 funerals in 2017 and more than 220,000 people took an online survey about who should get priority if the eligibility is changed.
Way said the response “shows us how important this cemetery is to the public.”
Based on the results so far, people want the cemetery to remain open for new burials, with those killed in action and Medal of Honor recipients always having a place for burial at the cemetery, Way said.
Changing eligibility requirements to only include those groups of veterans would dramatically extend how long burials could take place at Arlington.
“Given the rates of killed in action that we’ve had for the last 10 years, you could see the cemetery lasting 200 more years,” Way said.
At the current rate of 30 funerals a day, Arlington National Cemetery stands to be at capacity by 2041.
Considering 22 million people in the United States have some affiliation to the military, Way believes slight eligibility changes would only ensure future burials through the 2050s and 2060s.
According to Way, there also aren’t many options to expand the cemetery since there isn’t available land around it.
“It’s a pretty confined space,” Way said.
The military is in the designing phase of a 27-acre extension project known as the millennium project, but Way believes the new space would only extend the end of burials about 15 years.
Way said if eligibility changes are proposed, it would take about five years for them to make it through the approval process and take effect.
“It’s definitely not an overnight decision,” Way said.
The public is encouraged to take the cemetery’s eligibility survey which is open through Memorial Day.