VA wants to improve veterans’ burial benefits access

Published: May. 29, 2023 at 6:31 AM CDT
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ARLINGTON, Va. (CNN) - Amid the quiet and the solemnity, Arlington National Cemetery is expanding, adding 70 acres to the south of these hallowed grounds - an estimated 80 thousand burial sites - by late 2027.

“The current physical expansion that we’re doing right now, was the last available land contiguous - in other words, connecting Arlington National Cemetery - and even to do that expansion, we’ve had to reconstruct existing roads,” said Karen Durham-Aguilera, Arlington National Cemetery’s executive director.

About 30 miles to the south of Arlington, is Quantico National Cemetery. It’s one of 155 national cemeteries across the nation, maintained by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Cemetery Administration.

The network also includes 121 state-run cemeteries funded by the VA, and they say about 94 percent of U.S. veterans have one of these burial sites within 75 miles of home.

Still, utilization of VA burial benefits, which include no-cost interment, as well as similar benefits for spouses and dependents, is low compared to other VA benefits like health care and education.

“That’s the number we want to see increase. We want to make sure veterans know that this is an option across America,” said Matthew Quinn, VA Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs.

So they’re working to improve rural access to burial sites and, in dense, urban areas, build above-ground columbariums with a smaller footprint like the one at Los Angeles National Cemetery. Another will soon open in Queens, New York.

All of it is a way to say thank you one final time.

“The way we look at it is this is the nation’s last chance to thank that veteran for their service,” Quinn said.