Running out of space – Some angered by waivers allowing civilians to be buried at Arlington

Space is becoming so scarce at Arlington National Cemetery that the announcement that three of the Americans killed in the  bomb blast at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, would be buried there has helped reopen some old wounds.

 None of the three – Julian Bartley Sr., the consul general; his 20-year-old son, Jay Bartley; and Prabhi Guptara Kavaler, an administrative officer in the embassy – served in the military.

 But because they died serving their country, their families and several  members of Congress requested waivers for their burial at the Arlington cemetery in Virginia. President Clinton and the Pentagon granted the waivers on Friday.

 Space is running out at the 612-acre military cemetery , the nation's most prestigious since President Kennedy's burial there in 1963 made it a national shrine.

 A General Accounting Office report estimates that at the current rate of  about 20 coffin and urn burials a day, the cemetery will be full by 2025. Of  the 115 national military cemeteries, 60 have closed because they have no more room.

 A spate of recent events, like the Arlington burial of John Gibson, one of  two Capitol Hill police officers killed on duty in a shootout, has reopened the question of who deserves a space in the cemetery .

 Some veterans, and some members of Congress, are angry that waivers have been issued for those who did not serve in the military, while not all veterans are eligible for coffin burial. Also aggrieved are families denied waivers for relatives who died serving the government.

 Congress began restricting burials at Arlington in 1967 after Kennedy's burial increased the demand for plots there.

 Current regulations stipulate that without a waiver, burial at Arlington is limited to presidents, those who were on active military duty, those who were highly decorated (with a Silver Star or higher), those who spent at least 20  years in the service or those who were more than 30 percent disabled when  they were discharged.

 All honorably discharged veterans are eligible to have their cremated remains  placed in urns in the cemetery ‘s vault.

 If all veterans were eligible for coffin burial at Arlington , the cemetery  would reach capacity by 2020.

 About 50 waivers have been granted since 1967, an administration official said.

 After a scandal earlier this year – in which M. Larry Lawrence, a former  ambassador to Switzerland and a Democratic campaign contributor, was exhumed from Arlington because he had fabricated part of his military  background – the House voted unanimously to stop issuing waivers and to restrict burial to veterans.

 Despite that bill, which has not been taken up in the Senate, House members
were the first to call last month for an Arlington burial for Gibson, who had never served in the military.

 The waiver for Gibson raised the ire of Rep. Bob Stump, R-Ariz., chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee. He had drafted the proposed restrictions.  He is also seeking to expand the size of the Arlington cemetery .

 At least two veterans groups have joined Stump's crusade. “We should not  be making waivers to allow civilians in a veterans cemetery that denies  access to veterans,” said Dick Johnson, of the Non-Commissioned Officers  Association of the United States of America.

 But veterans are not the only ones who are unhappy over the waivers. So are  some of those denied waivers for their relatives.

 Maureen Dobert's daughter, Gail, a civilian employee at the Commerce Department, was killed in 1996 in an airplane crash in Yugoslavia along with  Ron Brown, who was the Commerce Secretary.

 Dobert sought a waiver for her daughter to be buried at Arlington but said  the White House lobbied her to drop the request so as not to put the president in the awkward position of refusing.

 “I absolutely in no way want to trivialize the military,” Dobert said, “and I  think it's proper that Officer Gibson and the Bartleys and other civilians are in that place of honor, but they should be fair and consistent about it.”

 An administration official said that waivers always caused some  “disgruntlement” but that the administration must be judicious because space is vanishing.

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