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Veterans Need to Know Space is Running Out at National Cemeteries

It’s true that space is running out at national cemeteries for burials. But the silver lining is more columbariums are being constructed for urns.
Corridor of a cemetery with new unused niches covered with cement

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Unfortunately, veterans may have fewer funeral options moving forward in coming years. It’s becoming clear that burial space is running out in national cemeteries across the country. The situation in Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) has gotten the most attention, but it’s a growing concern in many other VA cemeteries. 

Limited space is a natural problem for cemeteries of any kind. There’s only so much acreage and each burial plot that’s used reduces what’s available. National cemeteries are special in that it’s a place where veterans can be laid to rest and remembered for their service, often for free or at a much lower cost than being buried in a private cemetery. This is because veteran burial benefits include interment in national cemeteries. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently expanded veteran death benefits to include burial at state VA cemeteries, but that doesn’t address the issue. And at some point space will run out at state VA cemeteries as well. 

Just how concerned should veterans and their families be about space running out at VA cemeteries? And are there alternatives for veterans if burial plots aren’t available nearby? 

Let’s go into more detail about the issue of shrinking burial space and how the VA is addressing the matter now so that veterans will be able to use the death benefits they’ve earned. 

How Limited is Space for Veterans at National Cemeteries?

For several years now, there’s been growing concern over burial space in general. The world’s population is larger than ever and death comes to us all, which means the number of burial plots will only grow larger.

In 2017 the military acknowledged that if nothing changed, Arlington National Cemetery would run out of burial space by 2042. As of 2023, there were less than 70,000 burial spaces left. There are plans to increase the number of burial spaces, but one of the solutions that has since been implemented is limiting eligibility for burial at the iconic cemetery for U.S. veterans. 

But the problem extends well beyond ANC. Smaller national cemeteries like El Toro in California are set to run out of space as soon as 2025. The Los Angeles National Cemetery has been in a similar predicament for decades, which isn’t surprising given that L.A. has the largest concentration of veterans in the country. Burials have been very limited at Los Angeles National Cemetery since the 1970s. 

The issue of limited cemetery space is particularly problematic in densely populated metros like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. Given that land for cemeteries of any type is limited in many metros, there’s growing concern over how the VA will ensure veterans are honored properly

The Expanding America’s National Cemetery Act of 2023 was introduced by Senator Lisa McClain to address the problem directly so that all service members can receive full military burial honors, which includes cremation. The act goes right to the heart of the matter in an effort to get out ahead of the issue that’s getting bigger every day. The main objective is finding ways to increase capacity at national cemeteries, and the solutions go beyond finding more space for burial plots.   

The VA is Adding Columbariums So Veterans Have Other Options

The good news is burial isn’t the only form of disposition, and it’s possible to still choose just about any national or state VA cemetery as a final resting place if the veteran is cremated. In fact, it should be even easier in the years to come.

In 2015 the VA National Cemetery Administration began what’s known as the Urban Initiative with the goal of expanding burial space for veterans in five key urban areas. The initiative is focused on the construction of columbarium-only burial sites that are recognized as national cemeteries. The columbarium-only cemeteries are in Chicago, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, New York and Alameda (San Francisco/Oakland). 

Creating the columbarium-only cemeteries certainly helps the VA solve the problem of limited in-ground burial plots for veterans, but there are other upsides as well. The Urban Initiative also acknowledged that more people today prefer cremation over burial, including veterans. It was one of the primary reasons columbarium-only sites were identified as a viable solution. Increasing the number of columbariums at national cemeteries ensures that more veterans are able to receive the military honors they deserve regardless of the type of disposition they choose. 

The other benefit of adding the national cemetery columbarium sites is that fewer families have to choose between interment at a national cemetery and being near the final resting place of their loved one. With space so limited at many national and state VA cemeteries, some families have to resort to selecting a cemetery hundreds of miles from their homes if they want to utilize veteran burial benefits. 

Many of the columbarium-only burial sites are located near existing VA cemeteries that have run out of burial space. The VA has also implemented the Rural Initiative to increase burial space for veterans in rural areas, mainly by creating new national cemeteries and expanding those that already exist. Once the projects are complete, the VA estimates that 96% of veterans will have burial options at national cemeteries within 75 miles of their home.

At Green Cremation Texas we are honored to work with the families of veterans. Our team goes above and beyond to ensure our country’s military service members receive the respectful disposition they deserve and that their family members are treated with care and compassion. If you need to arrange cremation services for a veteran, you can reach us any time of day by phone, text or email.

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Marlaena Gonzales

Funeral Director
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