The historic military cemetery in Vancouver is now managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs instead of the Department of the Army, a change that will ease some restrictions over who can be laid to rest at the site.
The shift in operators also comes with a name change. Formerly the Vancouver Barracks Post Cemetery, the site is now officially named Vancouver Barracks National Cemetery.
The VA took over the 5.74-acre cemetery, near Interstate 5, in March. It was one of 11 formerly Army-run cemeteries slated for transfer in order to free up Army funds for more critical needs. The decision was part of a larger reorganization strategy released by the White House in 2018.
“We have been given a sacred trust to care for and maintain the memory of the service members and families who have been laid to rest at Vancouver Barracks,” VA Undersecretary for Memorial Affairs Randy Reeves said in a press release. “It is a duty we embrace wholeheartedly at each of the 142 national cemeteries that have been entrusted to us.”
The Vancouver site is now directly administered by the Willamette National Cemetery, the full-service national cemetery 18 miles away just outside Portland.
The change from Army to VA management means that new in-ground burials are now limited to cremated remains, instead of caskets, in order to maximize use of the remaining acreage at the Vancouver site. Casket burials will still be permitted for eligible family members at existing gravesites.
The shift also means that burial in the VA cemetery is open to all members of the armed forces, and to veterans who have met minimum requirements for active duty and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Members of the armed forces reserves are also eligible, if they died while on active duty or training duty.
Spouses and minor children of those veterans and service members are also eligible for burial at the site. In some cases, adult children are eligible.
A historic graveyard
The Vancouver Barracks served as an active Army post for 162 years, eventually deactivating in 2011. The Vancouver Barracks National Cemetery is one of four cemeteries that have been associated with the post over the course of its history. According to the Army cemeteries website, the first interment there was on Oct. 22, 1849.
It occupies a plot of land just northeast of the intersection of Interstate 5 and East Fourth Plain Boulevard, and includes more than 1,500 gravesites, including U.S. and foreign military personnel, prisoners of war, Native Americans and civilians. It’s the final resting place of at least four Medal of Honor recipients, and pioneering black troops known as the Buffalo Soldiers. More than 200 graves at the site are occupied by people whose names are lost to history.
The Vancouver Barracks National Cemetery is the fifth Army cemetery adopted recently by the National Cemetery Administration, which operates under the VA.
Over the last year, the agency’s umbrella grew to include Fort Lawton Post Cemetery in Seattle; Fort Missoula Post Cemetery,Mont.; Fort Sheridan National Cemetery, Ill.; and Fort Douglas Post Cemetery, Utah.
Six more cemeteries still await transfer: Fort Worden in Port Townsend; Fort Stevens, Ore.; Fort McClellan and its Enemy Prisoner of War Cemetery in Alabama; Fort Devens, Mass.; and Benicia Arsenal, Calif.
According to the 2018 White House proposal, the switch stems from a desire to cut down on overlapping management of the sites.
“At some facilities, responsible agencies no longer maintain an active presence, presenting unique challenges for efficient oversight and warranting reconsideration of the status quo,” the report states, adding that the transfer of cemeteries to the VA will help with “streamlining operations and achieving efficiencies.”