The move comes after more than two months of delayed and cancelled services at the department’s 140-plus cemeteries because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The sites have been open to visitors during that time, but officials have prohibited any large gatherings or group events.
“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.”
Committal services — where mourners hold a short remembrance ceremony within the cemetery but at a location away from the deceased loved one’s gravesite — can include volunteer honor guards and and other military funeral honors. Those will depend on local availability.
The committal ceremonies will be resume starting June 9 at all sites except Calverton and Long Island national cemeteries in New York, where local officials have delayed such gatherings until June 22.
Cemetery officials will still require individuals attending those services to follow coronavirus prevention guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means limits on the number of visitors and face coverings for all attendees.
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Memorial services for veterans and other family members who were buried without a committal service between March 23 and June 8 will begin in July. Similar restrictions will apply for those events.
Families of the deceased can still opt for direct interment and wait to schedule a memorial service at a later date, after all restrictions have been lifted.
The new announcement does not apply to Arlington National Cemetery, which is administered by the Army. Officials there have allowed some limited funeral services during the pandemic, with similar restrictions on crowd size and social distancing.
More than 108,000 Americans have died from complications related to the coronavirus in the last three months.
About Leo Shane III
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.