How to Tap Underutilized Burial Benefits for Veterans


Gloves hands hand a folder American flag the family member of a fallen serviceman.

Often forgotten among older veterans who served decades ago, are the many VA funeral and burial benefits that are available when they die a non-service-related death.

Most U.S. veterans (both combat and non-combat) who did not receive a dishonorable discharge are eligible for these benefits. To prove this, you'll need a copy of your DD Form 214 "Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty." If you don't have it, you can request online at Archives.gov/veterans.

Here's a rundown of some of the different benefits that are available to veterans that die a nonservice related death.

Military Cemetery Benefits
If you're eligible and would like to be buried in one of the 155 national or 119 state, territory or tribal-operated cemeteries (see VA.gov/find-locations), the VA provides a number of benefits at no cost to the family, including: a gravesite; opening and closing of the grave and perpetual gravesite care; a government headstone or marker; a United States burial flag that can be used to drape the casket or accompany the urn; and a Presidential Memorial Certificate.

If you're cremated, your remains will be buried or inurned in the same manner as casketed remains.

But be aware that funeral or cremation arrangements and costs are not taken care of by the VA. They are the responsibility of the veteran's family, but some veteran's survivors may be eligible for burial allowances.

The VA also offers a memorial web page called the Veterans Legacy Memorial for any veteran buried in a national, state, territorial or tribal cemetery. This allows families to post pictures and stories of their loved one online as a way to remember and honor their service.

If you're interested in this option, the VA has a pre-need burial eligibility determination program to help you plan ahead before you die. See VA.gov/burials-memorials/pre-need-eligibility or call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117.

Private Cemetery Benefits
The VA also provides benefits to veterans buried in private cemeteries. If you choose this option, the VA benefits include a free government headstone or grave marker, or a medallion that can be affixed to an existing privately purchased headstone or marker; a burial flag; and a Presidential Memorial Certificate.

Funeral or cremation arrangements and costs are again the responsibility of the family, and there are no benefits offered to spouses and dependents that are buried in private cemeteries.

Military Funeral Honors
Another popular benefit available to all eligible veterans buried in either a national or private cemetery is a military funeral honors ceremony. This includes an honor guard detail of at least two uniformed military persons, folding and presenting the U.S. burial flag to the veteran's survivors, and the playing of Taps.

The funeral provider you choose will be able to assist you with all VA burial requests. Depending on what you want, certain forms may need to be completed which are always better to be done in advance.

Burial at Sea
The U.S. Navy also offers a burial at sea program for retirees and veterans who were honorably discharged. Since the burial is from an active military ship, family members are not able to attend the ceremony in person. However, some family members choose to observe the ceremony from a civilian ship that is positioned nearby.

Following the ceremony, the commanding officer of the ship conducting the burial at sea will send the family a personal letter describing the exact date and time of the ceremony, the burial flag, pictures or video of the ceremony, and a chart showing the longitude and latitude where the service was performed.

To learn more about the burial at sea program visit, VA.gov/burials-memorials/eligibility/burial-at-sea. And for a complete rundown of burial and memorial benefits, eligibility details and required forms visit Cem.va.gov.

Burial Allowances
In addition to the burial benefits, some veteran's survivors may also qualify for a $948 burial allowance and $948 for a plot to those who choose to be buried in a private cemetery. And $231 for a headstone or grave marker allowance. To find out if your dad is eligible or to apply, see VA.gov/burials-memorials/veterans-burial-allowance.

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