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Officials talk ‘tough reality’ of Arlington National Cemetery’s limited space

While the current veteran population is over 20 million, Arlington National Cemetery only has about 100,000 available burial spaces. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

WASHINGTON — With Arlington National Cemetery set to run out of space in the coming years, restrictions on who can be buried there need to be considered, officials said Thursday.

“It’s a tough reality,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries, in testimony to a House Armed Services subcommittee. While the current veteran population is over 20 million, she said, the cemetery currently only has about 100,000 available burial spaces.

“Expansion alone will not keep Arlington National Cemetery open to new interments past the 2040s to 2050s,” she said. “We must address the demand for interment by restricting eligibility, in addition to physical expansion.”

Eligibility could one day be restricted to those killed in the line of duty, those given the highest military decorations, or those taken as a prisoner of war. Representatives from several military groups told lawmakers that they generally oppose broad restrictions.

Two expansion projects are currently underway. But beyond that, there are no additional plans for increasing burial space. In addition, there are few adjacent federal lands available, Durham-Aguilera said.

That lack of land had some talking about the possibility of opening an Arlington annex, which is not connected to Arlington National Cemetery.

“Locations like Gettysburg or Quantico could serve as dignified burial sites associated with the original Arlington cemetery,” said Forrest Allen of the Military Officers Association of America. “And while such sites might not have the same feel at the outset, there is potential for that aura to develop over time.”

Keith Zuegel of the Air Force Association did not agree. “It would be very difficult to match the iconic nature of Arlington National Cemetery, whether we called it ‘Arlington North’ or ‘South’ or whatever,” he said.

John Towles of the Veterans of Foreign Wars suggested using the grounds of the Armed Forces Retirement Home in the District.

“Every year we go out, we see unused space. We see a golf course that is struggling to remain open,” he said. “The cemetery at the Armed Forces Retirement Home is, aside from Arlington itself, arguably one of the most historic, oldest cemeteries in this country.”

Durham-Aguilera said a new survey will be launched in the coming weeks to get public feedback about the issues related to Arlington. A survey released this past summer found that most respondents recognized the need to change the cemetery’s eligibility policy.


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