For those who have visited Arlington National Cemetery, outside our nation’s capitol, the experience can be humbling. The stillness and dignity. The precision of the perfectly aligned stark-white headstones against the manicured green lawn. The reality of generation after generation of sacrifice.
It’s also startling to recognize that— because of the depth of American military sacrifices—the cemetery has almost reached capacity. Roughly 400,000 individuals are buried at Arlington now. As of late last year, officials estimate only 85,000 spaces remained.
You may have heard rumblings about the proposed changes to eligibility for burial at Arlington in an effort to extend the active use of the cemetery. While the process is still underway to finalize any proposals, it could mean a much more stringent criteria for both traditional burials and the inurnment of ashes.
It is a difficult balance to strike, between those living veterans who plan for burial in those hallowed grounds and military members who have fallen or been wounded in combat and those who have been awarded among the highest echelon of military awards. The proposed criteria may also carry the unintended consequence of excluding more women veterans — even those who are currently eligible for burial.
We must stay aware of these types of proposals, follow the process and provide feedback as necessary and appropriate. We must also strive to be in possession of the facts.
Similarly, the congressionally mandated Asset and Infrastructure Review Commission is a topic on many of your minds.
Based on market analysis, the Department of Veterans Affairs has released its preliminary report with recommendations for possible remodel, new construction, moves, closures or changes in services throughout its facilities nationwide. What is most important to remember right now — even if changes have been recommended for your local facility — is that nothing is changing in the immediate future and that this process is still in its initial stages.
Moving forward, we will need our membership to remain steadfast and engaged. There will be more to come, but as we have said from the start, this process must result in veterans having enhanced access to care. If that is not the case, we must be prepared to let the VA know.