Arlington National Cemetery is reaching out to the public for suggestions after Congress asked to find the means necessary to keep the burial site open -- despite estimates it could run out of space in approximately 23 years.
Army National Military Cemeteries Executive Director Karen Durham-Aguilera testified before a House panel on March 8 and warned about the grim future of capacity at Arlington based on current eligibility requirements, according to a press release.
“Without changes to the current eligibility requirements and physical footprint, Arlington National Cemetery will not be a burial option for most who served in the Gulf War – or any conflict since – regardless of their contribution, achievements, or valor,” she said.
The cemetery, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., was established during the Civil War in 1864. It includes the Tomb of the Unknowns, honoring U.S. service members whose remains have not been identified.
A survey conducted in July found that many of the 28,000-plus people who participated felt that keeping the iconic cemetery “open well into the future is paramount,” according to Arlington's website.
Many who responded said that if it came down to eligibility, the cemetery should be limited to “those killed in action, Medal of Honor and other high award recipients, former POWs, and those active duty service members who die on operational missions.”
Although the requirements to be buried at Arlington are “the most stringent” of all national cemeteries, Army officials have said that most veterans with “at least one day of active service other than training, and who have been honorably discharged, are eligible for above-ground inurnment at the cemetery.”
Based on the results of the initial survey, Arlington officials have issued a second survey asking the public to share their thoughts. It can be found on the cemetery's website.
"Your opinion matters - not only to us, but to our military and civilian leaders as they face a difficult future for our hallowed national shrine," Durham-Aguilera said.
Officials at Arlington continue to struggle with the land available and the growing rate at which burials are requested.