Committee Approves Legislation To Reform Burial Rules at Arlington National Cemetery

December 13, 2001

Smith Bill Expands Eligibility To Include Retired Reservists, Such as
Captain Burlingame, and Reserve and National Guard Killed on Duty

The House Committee on Veterans Affairs today approved legislation, H.R. 3423 to reform eligibility rules for burial of reservists at Arlington National Cemetery.  The bill, sponsored by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-4), Chairman of the Committee, would change existing law by eliminating the age requirement for retired
reservists who would otherwise be eligible for in-ground burial.  In addition, H.R. 3423 would allow in-ground burial of all members of the National Guard and selected reserves who die in the line of duty while on training duty.

Smith’s legislation would change the Army rule which would have prevented Captain Charles Burlingame, the pilot of flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon on September 11th, from receiving full burial rights at Arlington.  After receiving a waiver from the Army, Burlingame was buried at Arlington yesterday.

“A burial at Arlington National Cemetery is one of the highest honors that our nation can bestow upon those servicemen and women who performed above and beyond the call of duty,” said Smith.  “This honor was meant for men like Charles Burlingame, who served with distinction for more than 20 years, but had the misfortune to die a premature death,” he said.

“Charles Burlingame and others who may be in his situation in the future, should not be denied this high honor – an honor that they have already earned but for their age – simply because they had the misfortune to die before the age of 60,” Smith said.

“Furthermore, H.R. 3423 will provide the families of reserve members who die while performing training duty, such as weekend or two-week reserve duty, with the same right to have an in-ground burial at Arlington as we provide to Guardsmen and reservists who die while on extended active duty,” said Smith.  “Given the increased responsibilities assigned to our reserve and National Guard forces, we must amend our laws to reflect
the vital role that they now play in our nation’s national security strategy,” he said.

Since the Army issued restrictive eligibility regulations in 1967, burials rights at Arlington have been limited to veterans and the families of veterans who were wounded in combat, died on active duty, received one of the military services’ highest awards for gallantry, were held as a prisoner of war, retired from military service or served in a high federal office.  Last year, 3,727 veterans and family members were buried at Arlington
National Cemetery, which is administered by the Department of the Army.

In addition, the Department of Veterans Affairs administers 133 national cemeteries throughout the United States, and since 1980 has provided $82 million in grants to states to establish or expand 42 state veterans cemeteries.  Last year, over 82,000 veterans and family members were interred in VA cemeteries and more than 14,000 veterans and family members were buried in state veterans cemeteries.

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