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National Cemetery Administration

Site Elements/Features - Interment Areas

Burial Sections

Interment areas are those portions of the cemetery acreage that are developed for burials of either full casket or cremated remains. Interment areas may be subdivided into burial sections of varying sizes and shapes. Burial sections are visually separate areas, broken by vegetated areas (woods), roads, walks and topography. Burial sections for full casket gravesites shall be no larger than three acres. Burial sections for cremated remains shall have no more than 999 sites (approximately .2 acres).

In-ground interment areas for casketed or cremated remains shall generally conform to existing terrain. Final grades shall range from 2 percent, the minimum to achieve positive drainage, to a maximum of 15 percent. Avoid casket burials on steep slopes. Avoid extensive grading to achieve these criteria where such grading has an adverse impact on adjoining land or where such grading substantially alters or destroys natural features. Define interment areas by natural terrain features such as ridges, valleys or natural breaks in the topography.

Edges of burial sections shall be a minimum of 3 meters (10 feet) from edges of roads, drives and tree lines; a minimum of 6 meters (20 feet) from property boundaries or fence lines. The maximum distance from the edge of a road to the farthest gravesite within a burial section shall be no further than 120 meters (400 feet) over relatively level land. In areas with steep slopes, the distance from road to farthest gravesite shall be considerably shorter. Generally, for every increase of 5 percent of slope, there should be a decrease of 30 meters (100 feet) or more in the distance.

The topography will be the primary factor in determining the direction graves face within a burial section. Where the topography is not significant, road layout and accessibility will determine the direction graves face. A single burial section should have one predominant slope. Each burial section in the cemetery is identified, with the limits of the burial section clearly indicated by section markers.

Full Casket Gravesites

The National Cemetery Administration is committed to providing burial benefits to as many veterans as possible and to achieving the maximum development of gravesites within national cemeteries. The standard gravesite size will be the smallest size practical to accommodate the type of marker being used, to ensure appropriate gravesite appearance and to provide for safety consideration of employees. Each gravesite is marked with one marker, consistent with the requirements of applicable law.

The standard gravesite sizes will be used when conditions warrant:

  • The 1500 millimeters x 3000 millimeters (5 feet x 10 feet) gravesite will be used where double-depth interments in a 2100 millimeters (7') excavation are possible

  • The 1800 millimeters x 3000 millimeters (6 feet x 10 feet) gravesite will be used for single depth side-by-side interments where excavation below 1500 millimeters (5') is impractical due to soil conditions.

  • The 1200 millimeters x 2400 millimeters (4 feet x 8 feet) gravesite may be used in those sections of national cemeteries which by law use flat markers.

  • The 900 millimeters x 2400 millimeters (3 feet x 8 feet) gravesite may be used in those sections of national cemeteries which use lawn crypts. Lawn crypts are pre-placed concrete containers with removable concrete lids which are installed at the time of land development. Crypts are installed by excavating the burial area and preparing it to provide adequate drainage. Pre-cast crypts are then placed adjacent to one another and abutting on another.
Accommodation of Cremated Remains

As with full casket gravesites, NCA is committed to achieving the maximum development of cremain sites within national cemeteries. NCA will strive to provide cremain sites in all cemeteries including those closed to the interment of casketed remains. The standard cremain site size will be the smallest size practical to accommodate the type of marker being used, to ensure that the cremain site appearance is appropriate and consistent with any adjacent gravesite section. Each gravesite will be marked with one marker, consistent with the requirements of applicable law and NCA policy.

The standard cremain site sizes will be used when conditions warrant:

  • Designated Cremains Sections -- A burial site for the interment of cremated remains in a separate cremains section is 900 millimeters x 900 millimeters x + 600 millimeters (3 feet x 3 feet x + 2 feet) deep, and is marked with a 300 millimeters x 450 millimeters (12 inches x 18 inches) flat marker of granite or bronze.

  • Garden Niche or Terrace -- A burial site for the interment of cremated remains in a distinct space using a system of paths, walls and/or terraces that creates a tranquil garden setting, is 900 millimeters x 900 millimeters x + 600 millimeters (3 feet x 3 feet x + 2 feet) deep, and is marked with a 300 millimeters x 450 millimeters (12 inches x 18 inches) VA standard flat marker of granite or bronze, or a wall-mounted bronze plaque, 140 millimeters x 215 millimeters (5-1/2 inches x 8-1/2 inches).

  • Columbarium -- A niche in an above-grade structure designed for the interment of cremated remains is 265 millimeters x 375 millimeters x 500 millimeters (10-1/2 inches x 15 inches x 20 inches) deep, measured at the face. Each niche is designed to accept an individual VA standard niche cover. Some columbaria developed earlier in national cemeteries utilized multiple-niche covers and various sizes of niches. Expansion of existing columbaria will follow the original design concept for that cemetery. The columbarium design must include the capability of expansion in future phases of cemetery development but must appear complete with the initial phase of development.

  • Cremains [Scattering] Garden -- A designated garden-type area where cremated remains are scattered in the landscape. A site used for the scattering of cremated remains is not individually marked, but the deceased is acknowledged on a communal bronze plaque in the garden area or by an individual bronze plaque mounted on a wall designated for that purpose. An individual whose ashes are scattered in the national cemetery may not have a memorial marker placed in the memorial section of the cemetery.
Memorial Sites and Sections

A memorial section may be located in areas of a cemetery not suitable, because of soils, terrain or landscape features, for casketed interments. The size and configuration of the memorial section will depend on the terrain, network of roads, walks, etc., the size of the individual memorial site and the demand at a particular cemetery for memorial sites. A memorial site is 900 millimeters x 900 millimeters (3 feet x 3 feet), marked with a 300 millimeters x 450 millimeters (12 inches x 18 inches) flat marker of granite or bronze, except that bronze memorial plaques may be mounted on walls designated for that purpose, in lieu of placement of a marker in a memorial section. These walls may be portions of other features such as retaining walls, terraces, etc. that are appropriate for memorial purposes.

Section Markers

Each burial section is marked by one or more section markers bearing either the number or letter assigned to that section. Section markers are an element of the signage system for the cemetery. Section markers are positioned at the edge of the section, usually near a road, drive or walk, where they are readily visible to the public. Design details of the three standard section markers can be found in NCA Program Guide Signage Standards.

Gravesite Control Markers

Permanent gravesite control monuments, which meet the requirements detailed in NCA Handbook, Interment Area Layout, are installed prior to the use of any section (burial, cremains or memorial) for interment. The standard grid dimensions are 27 meters x 27 meters (90 feet x 90 feet).