Burial of bomb victims in Arlington cemetery sparks resentment Military vets are turned away because of space


WASHINGTON -- 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 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 cemetery in Arlington, Va. President Clinton and the Pentagon granted the waivers 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.

A spate of recent events, such as 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.

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 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, it would reach capacity in 2020.

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

After a scandal 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 Republican Rep. Bob Stump of Arizona, 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.

Pub Date: 8/16/98

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