Veterans put their lives on the line to protect and serve. Upon death, whether in the act of service or non-service, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides funeral benefits to honor the lost veteran.
These benefits can include veteran cremation or burials as well as markers and burial allowances. It’s important to understand the available benefits to ease the stress of funeral planning.
Veterans’ Funeral Benefits
All qualifying U.S. veterans are entitled to funeral benefits, which include:
Burial at a national veterans' cemetery. There are 151 cemeteries across the nation.
A marker or headstone.
A burial flag.
Veterans buried at a national cemetery will incur no costs for the gravesite itself, the opening and closing of the gravesite, the vault/liner, or the setting of the marker and perpetual care of the gravesite. Families will be responsible for the following costs:
Preparation of the body
The urn or casket
If a veteran chooses to be buried in a private cemetery, a government-issued headstone or marker and a flag will be provided at no cost. The family will be responsible for all other costs, including the cost of placing the marker or headstone.
Veterans cannot reserve space in a national cemetery. However, you can apply in advance for interment at a VA national cemetery. This is known as “pre-need determination of eligibility,” and it can make the funeral planning process much easier for grieving families.
National cemeteries provide space for burials as well as cremated remains. If a veteran chooses to be cremated, a special niche marker can be provided for the urn.
Veterans also have the right to military funeral honors, which the family may request through the funeral home. The ceremony will be performed by uniformed military persons, and it includes:
The playing of Taps
The folding and presenting of a flag
One of the uniformed military persons will be from the deceased’s parent military service. This individual will present the flag to the late veteran’s next of kin.
Additionally, family members and friends of the deceased veteran may request a Presidential Memorial Certificate. This engraved certificate is signed by the President of the United States and honors the veteran.
Any items that are purchased or received from the funeral home will be considered a private expense and is ineligible for reimbursement.
The VA will provide burial allowances for service-connected and non-service-related deaths. These allowances are paid automatically when the VA receives notification of the veteran’s death and the eligibility requirements are met.
For non-service-related deaths, veterans may be entitled to burial allowances if they meet certain criteria, such as:
Hospitalized by the VA at the time of death: $796
Not hospitalized by the VA at the time of death: $300
Veterans may also be entitled to a plot-interment allowance if they choose to be buried at a private cemetery. The allowance increases annually and fluctuates based on the Consumer Price Index.
If the veteran’s death was service-related, the VA will provide a $2,000 burial allowance in addition to a burial in a national cemetery, headstone or marker, and a burial flag.
The provided burial allowance can be used to help cover additional costs, such as transportation to the burial site, the funeral director’s services and the casket or urn.
If the veteran is buried in a national cemetery, some or all of the transportation costs may be reimbursed.
Death During Active Duty
If a veteran’s death occurs during active duty, all funeral expenses will be paid for by the military service. This includes costs associated with:
Urn or casket
Gravesite at a national cemetery
Marker or headstone
Family members will also receive free transportation to the burial site. The veteran’s next of kin will also be entitled to a $100,000 death gratuity benefit.
It’s important to note that the VA will not provide burial benefits if the deceased individual:
Died during active service
Was a Federal prisoner
Was a member of Congress and was holding office at the time of death
Headstones or Markers
Eligible veterans are entitled to memorials without charge regardless of where they are buried. Markers can also be placed free of charge in any national cemetery or military post cemetery.
Several marker styles are available, but they must be consistent with other monuments in the cemetery. Niche markers are also available for cremated remains.
Styles can include:
Inscriptions must include the veteran’s:
Full legal name
Branch of service
Veterans may also include their rank, emblem of belief and decorations earned if they wish. Accomplishments and nicknames may be added to the inscription at an additional, private expense, but they must be approved by the VA.
Burial at Sea
Veterans who are honorably discharged and their dependents are eligible for the scattering of cremains at sea or a burial at sea. This service is provided by the U.S. Navy.
While there is no charge for burial at sea, the body must be prepared and transported to the point of departure.
A flag is required, which can be returned to the family. However, families may not be present for burials at sea because they are performed while the ship is deployed. Although families cannot be present for the committal, they will be notified of the date, time and coordinates of the committal service once it has been completed.
Benefits for Veterans’ Spouses and Dependents
A veteran’s spouse and minor children are also eligible for burial and a marker in a national cemetery. This benefit is available even if the spouse and dependents pass away before the veteran or if the veteran is buried in a different cemetery.
Spouses that remarry a non-veteran will still be entitled to burial benefits from his/her previous marriage. These benefits only apply to burials at national cemeteries.
Adult children are only entitled to funeral benefits if they are dependent, unmarried or disabled.
Required Documents for Benefit Claims
The VA has evidence requirements that must be met before burial allowances and other funeral benefits will be provided.
Applications must be submitted within two years after the veteran’s burial or cremation.
Which Individuals are Not Eligible for Veteran Funeral Benefits?
Certain individuals are not eligible for veteran funeral benefits, including:
Those with a Certain Character of Discharge
Veterans are disqualified if they have a character of service that renders them ineligible, or they were discharged under dishonorable conditions.
Those Who Were Drafted and Then Discharged Before Serving
If an individual is ordered to report to an induction station but is discharged before serving, he or she is ineligible for funeral benefits.
Those Who are Convicted of Capital Crimes
Veterans may not receive funeral benefits if:
There is convincing evidence they’ve committed a state or federal capital crime, but they fled to avoid prosecution or death before a trial could be held.
They are convicted (and that conviction is final) of a state or federal capital crime and may receive a sentence of the death penalty or life imprisonment.
Some Family Members
Certain family members are ineligible for funeral benefits through the VA, including:
Siblings, parents and other relatives
Most adult children
Family members convicted of subversive activities
State Funeral Benefits for Veterans
The VA is but one source for funeral benefits. Most states have their own veterans' cemeteries and will provide similar benefits to veterans.
Every state will have its own requirements for eligibility, including discharge requirements or state residency requirements.
Contact your local veterans’ service office to learn more about your state’s funeral benefits.
National veterans’ cemeteries do not allow you to reserve spaces, but you can plan ahead. No one wants to think about their death or make such plans, but taking these difficult steps now can help make things less stressful for your family in the future.
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