Imagine you are an 80-year-old who served over 30 years of active military service — with the literal battle scars to prove it — having made plans to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. You and your family made these plans because a burial, with the appropriate honors is what the military promised you when you joined AND when you retired. Now as you and your family think about how and where your life and sacrifice to our nation are to be honored — you discover your end of life plans are null and void. (Even worse — your family finds out after you are gone.)
That’s the scenario that will play out for military retirees if the Army is successful in denying burial benefits for retirees at Arlington. The changes proposed will render those who honorably served 20 or more years ineligible for in-ground burial and the military honors currently afforded to retirees at Arlington. It seems bizarre that the Army is proposing to eliminate Arlington burial benefits for veterans alive today in order to benefit those who have yet to serve one day in uniform — but that is exactly what is before the Congress.
Equally disturbing is that the Army’s move to eliminate Arlington burials for retired veterans is unknown to nearly all retirees. Although retirees receive regular and frequent communications from Defense Finance and Accounting Service — as well as their respective services — there has been no notice to retirees or their families that their end of life plans are about to be upended.
Burial space at Arlington is limited. Without some adjustment in eligibility it may run out in 2055. The question then is who will be afforded this limited space. The answer may seem obvious. Amazingly, the Department of the Army has proposed and put before Congress regulations to break the promise made to military retirees. Without a strong message from retirees, their families and those who believe the military should keep its promise to honor and bury those who have spent 20 plus years in the service of our nation — Congress will no doubt adopt the Department of the Army’s recommendation.
An alternative recommendation is to adopt the Army’s proposal with one modification — those who are currently receiving retired pay would retain their eligibility to be buried at Arlington, as well as those who meet the newly proposed criteria for burial.
The time is now for those who care to contact their Representative and Senators and ask them to keep the military’s promise and allow retirees to be buried at Arlington.
Robin B. Umberg is a retired Army General with over 30 years of military service. Thomas J. Umberg is a retired Army Colonel. Together they have served five overseas tours.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times senior managing editor Howard Altman, firstname.lastname@example.org.