Many veterans who served in the Global War on Terror may find themselves without a place to take their final rest- at least at the Arlington National Cemetery.
Despite giving vocal opposition on Thursday, veterans groups learned they may face severe eligibility restrictions when it comes to burial in one of America’s most iconic cemeteries.
“We are filling up every single day,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, executive director of Army National Military Cemeteries. “Within the next few years, Section 60 -known for the recent wars- will be closed. This is on our mind every day.”
For veterans of Desert Storm and onward, this spells bad news.
“A veteran from the 1991 Gulf War who lives to his or her normal life expectancy will not be able to be interred at Arlington,” she lamented.
The century-and-a-half , the cemetery has attraction hundreds of millions of visitors a year, and is home to over 7,000 interred servicemembers as of 2017.
However, the United States Army claims there are only about 100,000 burial sites left, in a site between the timeless Potomac River and an ever-growing mass of northern Virginia suburbs. While plans project burials to be available until the 2040s, it is unlikely that there will be any space beyond that timeframe.
While the government has proposed limiting admission to only troops killed in the line of duty and certain distinguished veterans (such as Medal of Honor or Purple Heart recipients), veterans groups told the House Armed Services Committee that such an idea was unacceptable.
“We should save a select number of spaces for those individuals, but not change the eligibility rules at the exclusion of those serving today,” said retired Col. Keith Zuegel, senior director at the Air Force Association.
However, popular opinion is in favor of restricting entry to only the most distinguished, as space is a finite resource and alternative military cemeteries exist all over the country.
“We should put a higher priority for those individuals at Arlington,” said Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb. and a retired Air Force brigadier general, told the Army Times. “It seems like that place should be reserved for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the country.”
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