Services to resume Tuesday at most VA cemeteries
By ROSE L. THAYER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 5, 2020
Stars and Stripes is making stories on the coronavirus pandemic available free of charge. See other free reports here. Sign up for our daily coronavirus newsletter here. Please support our journalism with a subscription.
Memorial services will resume Tuesday at nearly all of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ 143 national cemeteries after deferring the ceremonies for more than two months because of the coronavirus pandemic, the VA announced Friday.
Burials and visitation have continued during the pandemic, though ceremonies, known as committal services, and military honors were paused March 23 to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved, according to the VA.
"During the last 10 weeks, VA national cemeteries have continued performing our essential mission — to inter veterans and eligible family members," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement. "We believe we have a robust set of measures in place that will allow us to conduct committal and memorial services while protecting the health and safety of veterans, their families and our team members who serve them."
Interments scheduled on or after Tuesday will be offered the option of a committal service at the time of interment, according to a VA news release. Personnel with VA national cemeteries will contact families who were unable to hold a committal service during the pause to reschedule a service as early as July.
The 20-minute services are held in covered shelters located throughout cemeteries, not at the gravesite, and precede burial, according to a VA’s website. Families can choose to have readings or request military funeral honors be performed.
Only two cemeteries in New York are not adding services Tuesday. Calverton and Long Island national cemeteries will resume committal services June 22, provided state and local guidance allow for it, according to the VA. Military funeral honors, customarily provided by the Defense Department and volunteer honor guards, will be based on local availability.
To adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the VA said it is limiting the number of individuals attending committal services, practicing physical distancing between individuals not from the same household, ensuring all attendees and employees wear face coverings, encouraging frequent use of hand sanitizer and asking sick individuals to stay home.
Attendance numbers vary based on state and local guidelines for gathering sizes provided the facility can accommodate increased attendees while maintaining physical distancing.
Families can continue to choose direct interment and opt for a memorial service later when all restrictions have been lifted.