A bill defining who is eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery - and ending waivers for those who are not - has won unanimous House approval.
The legislation that was passed Tuesday on a 412-0 vote is an outgrowth of press reports last year that the administration was granting burial plots at Arlington as favors to political donors. A review by the General Accounting Office, the investigative wing of Congress, found no evidence of improper behavior in the granting of waivers and concluded that eligibility rules were unclear.Under the bill, burial at Arlington would be limited to members of the Armed Forces who die on active duty, military retirees, recipients of the Medal of Honor and other top awards, former prisoners of war and the president and former presidents.
It would eliminate the need for a waiver for a spouse and immediate family to be buried together with an eligible veteran.
The bill would bar members of Congress, the vice president, Supreme Court justices, Cabinet secretaries and ranking diplomats from being buried at Arlington based solely on having served in the military. But a senator, for example, would be eligible if he had won a major decoration in service.
"This bill removes most of the discretion, ambiguity and guesswork from the eligibility process for burials at Arlington," said Rep. Lane Evans of Illinois, ranking Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Evans noted that neither he nor the committee chairman, Rep. Bob Stump, R-Ariz., would be eligible for burial at Arlington under the legislation. Evans was a Marine during the Vietnam War, and Stump served in the Navy in World War II.
The Army has estimated that the 612-acre cemetery overlooking the Potomac River could be full by 2025 at current burial rates.
Stump said that, with the support of veterans' groups, his committee decided that all future waivers would be eliminated. He suggested that lawmakers consider building another national cemetery in the Washington area for Americans who have made significant contributions to the country but don't meet the criteria for burial at Arlington.