The solemn strains of taps may now echo again among the marble headstones at Omaha National Cemetery and dozens of other federal military burial grounds.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has lifted restrictions that halted committal services and the rendering of military honors at its 143 cemeteries since March 23. The restrictions were imposed as a measure to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
“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,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement.
The limits closed public buildings at VA cemeteries and stopped traditional military honors including the playing of taps, the rifle salute, the color guard and the folding of the flag.
Burials were allowed to continue, with committal services — including military honors — deferred to a later date.
The number of mourners at graveside was limited to 10.
The restrictions on the rendering of military honors don’t apply at civilian cemeteries.
Greta Hamilton, director of Omaha National Cemetery, said it’s not known how many people decided to delay services until after the restrictions were lifted.
But this year, 89 burials were held at the cemetery between March 23 and June 8, the dates during which the limits applied, compared with 172 during the same period last year, Hamilton said. That’s a drop of 48%.
A committal ceremony with honors was held at the cemetery Wednesday for the first time since March.
“We’re expecting that people will start to schedule,” Hamilton said.
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In a press release, the VA said families whose loved ones were buried without a committal service during the restricted period will be contacted and offered dates for a new service beginning in July.
The lifting of the restrictions applies at all but two of the VA’s national cemeteries, Calverton and Long Island, both in New York state. At those sites, the limits will remain in place until June 22, the release said.
Hamilton said some restrictions do remain. Services are limited to 25 people, and those attending are required to wear face masks.
“Honors have been restored, committals are happening,” she said. “It’s a big win.”
Military veterans (except those dishonorably discharged), their spouses and minor children are generally eligible for burial in VA national cemeteries. To make burial arrangements, contact the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117.