After two years of limited attendance at Veterans Affairs cemeteries on Memorial Day because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s commemoration ceremonies will be completely open to the public once again, department officials announced Monday.
All VA national cemeteries will be open Memorial Day weekend from dawn to dusk, with no limits on entry for visitors.
For the last two years, the number of individuals allowed in the sites has been severely restricted because of the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020, the locations were almost completely closed, as the initial wave of virus cases spread across America.
VA officials said they will still encourage visitors to follow Centers for Disease Control guidelines on masking and social distancing to remain safe.
“There is no more fitting place to reflect upon the service and sacrifice of America’s veterans and service members than in a national cemetery,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “Here lie those who served, sacrificed and — in many cases — gave their lives for us and our country. We are forever in their debt.”
VA maintains 155 national cemeteries and 34 other memorial sites in 43 states and Puerto Rico. Most have some events planned for Memorial Day weekend, including placing American flags on veterans headstones in advance of the holiday.
VA officials said some of those events will also be streamed online, for visitors who are unable to visit in person or unsure about the potential health risks of attending the live events.
McDonough is scheduled to preside over the wreath laying at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery on Sunday. VA Deputy Secretary Donald Remy will host a similar event at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in Texas.
President Joe Biden is expected to take part in a commemoration ceremony over the weekend as well, but details of his plans have not yet been made public by the White House.
Nearly 22,000 veterans connected to the VA medical system have died from Covid-related illnesses over the last 26 months.
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.