The Air Force Association Thursday came out strongly in favor of pursuing all available options, including expansion, to deal with looming exhaustion of space at Arlington National Cemetery before limiting eligibility.
Keith Zuegel, AFA’s senior director of government relations and a retired Air Force colonel, was one of a number of witnesses from military and veterans’ service organizations testifying on the issue during a hearing held by the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee.
The Advisory Committee on Arlington National Cemetery said in January that a survey of 28,000 veterans, service members, military families, and the public found “nearly unanimous support” for keeping the cemetery active for new burials well into the future.
However, it also found that most respondents “also recognized the need to change eligibility policy either along with future expansions or alone”—although those believing the rules should change also believed the cemetery should stay open for those killed in action or who performed extraordinary actions in combat.
Zuegel told the committee, “As the organization that led the financing and construction of the Air Force Memorial, which could potentially be encroached by cemetery expansion options, we at AFA realize that the surrounding land is finite.”
Moreover, with fewer than 100,000 plots remaining and the interment of about 7,000 veterans and family members annually, space is expected to run out in the early 2040s, he said.
“We strongly believe that our nation’s decision makers should explore an ‘all of the above’ strategy, to include land expansion and land optimization before reducing or curtailing eligibility,” he said, adding that it is “important to keep the cemetery viable as long as possible for future Medal of Honor recipients, those killed in combat, and top medal awardees.”
In addition to exploring expansion possibilities, more above ground inurnments should be considered, he said.
During questioning, Zuegel said that although land expansion is AFA’s first choice, a requirement for 24 months of Active Duty service should be considered, and there should be more discussion of including Active Duty retirees.
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