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It Can Take a Shockingly Long Time to Have a Burial at Arlington National Cemetery

Families are "shocked when we tell them the reality."

ARLINGTON, VA - AUGUST 14: Members of the U.S. Army honor guard lower the casket of U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene during a full honors funeral service at Arlington National Cemetery, August 14, 2014 in Washington, DC. Greene was shot and killed as he visited Afghanistan's national military academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. He is the highest ranking Army officer killed in combat since the Vietnam War. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In February 1980, it took an average of 4 1/2 days for the honor of being buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

By February 2013, that average was up to six months, according to an analysis by the News-Press of Fort Meyers, Florida.

A member of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arlington National Cemetery, Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014. (AP Photo/Republican-Herald, David McKeown)

Many families said they don't necessarily mind the wait to get a preferred burial spot with a funeral service, the newspaper reported, but even families that requested expedited burials had to wait long periods.

An increase in the number of burial service requests at the national cemetery is behind the delay, but Arlington spokeswoman Melissa Bohan said the average wait time is slightly shorter than the newspaper's estimate.

“Currently, the length of time from the first call from the family or funeral home wishing to schedule the service, until the service takes place, does not generally exceed six months — the average is about four months — six months would be for families wishing to have full military honors, a chapel service beforehand, etc.,” Bohan told the News-Press.

Arlington National Cemetery gets 35 requests per day to schedule a service, Bohan said, and conducts about 30 funeral services and burials every weekday, and six to eight on Saturdays, excluding holidays, the newspaper reported.

The 624-acre Virginia cemetery, located just outside Washington, D.C., has been marking its 150th year since opening in 1864. It is the resting place of the remains of more than 400,000 service members and veterans.

The cemetery conducted 5,512 services in 2000; two separate dates from that year measured for the newspaper's analysis had average wait times of 32.2 days and 18.4 days.Thirteen years later, there were 5,841 services, and the average wait times for two separate days were 174.3 days and 151 days.

“That means the number of services increased by just under 6 percent, and the time to burial increased an average of nearly 543 percent,” the newspaper reported, comparing 2000 and 2013.

Additionally, requests for funeral services outpace actual services conducted by at least 50 week, the newspaper reported.

The case management has improved over the past four years, with software to track requests and call center, Bohan said. But she offered no assurance to the newspaper that wait times will be shorter.

Bohan said service members who die of “hostile wounds” get preference.

Funeral homes have difficulty explaining the wait times to the families of veterans.

"The (families) are shocked when we tell them the reality," of the wait time at Arlington, said Shannon Mullins, owner of Mullins Memorial Funeral Home and Cremation Service in Cape Coral and Fort Myers. "They look at us like we don't know what we're talking about."

Arlington won't allow advance planning for services, and it takes at least two weeks before a person is approved for burial, Mullins told the News-Press. After that, she said, it can be anther five to six weeks before the service is even scheduled, which could be months down the road. Storing the remains for that time can cost about $200 per day after 10 days of storage, Mullins said.

Tanya Scotece, a licensed funeral director of Farley Funeral Homes and Crematory in Venice and North Port, Florida, said Arlington prefers the body be stored in the city where the person lived. She said families can have a shorter wait times if they hold the funeral service locally and then allow the funeral home to arrange the transfer and burial of the body to Arlington.

One last thing…
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