Death is a subject most people prefer to avoid, but talking about it can help you ease the strain on your family when the time comes. By discussing your wishes ahead of time, you can avoid leaving your loved ones unsure what you would have wanted, and you can ensure that your wishes are carried out. If you or a loved one is a veteran, you should be familiar with the services and assistance offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Most veterans are entitled to a burial space in a national or state veterans’ cemetery, a government-issued headstone or grave marker, a flag for use as part of the interment ceremony and a keepsake afterward, a memorial certificate signed by the President, and some form of military honors. Under certain circumstances, veterans’ families may also be eligible for a burial allowance to help defray the cost of funeral services and interment. Certain benefits, such a space at a national or state veterans’ cemetery and a government-issued marker at those cemeteries, are also available to spouses and dependents of veterans.
Here are some things to remember:
- Military discharge papers are required to establish eligibility for these services; it is very important that the person or people who will be handling funeral arrangements know how to get this paperwork. Keep discharge papers somewhere secure, but make sure your family or executor knows where they are.
- Most of the time, your funeral director will help you apply for these benefits and services as part of his or her role in the funeral arrangements; you should only need to tell your funeral director that your loved one was a veteran.
- It may be helpful to pre-plan your funeral; this can include things like pre-selecting the inscription and religious emblem on your government-issued marker, and choosing whether or not to utilize a national or state veterans’ cemetery, as well as selecting a casket, opting for cremation, and discussing details of the service. Doing this will also enable you to keep a copy of your discharge papers on file at the funeral home to guarantee they will be available when needed.
The VA offers Burial Allowances to reimburse veterans’ families for some of the costs of funeral services and burial plots. Family members are eligible to collect a veteran’s Burial Allowance if they paid for the veteran’s funeral service and/or interment and have not been reimbursed for those expenses, either by a government agency or the veteran’s employer. Veterans are eligible for Burial Allowances if:
- the veteran’s death was due to a condition or disability related to his or her prior military service, or
- if the veteran was eligible for a VA pension or compensation (whether or not he or she was receiving it), or
- if the veteran died in a VA hospital or VA-contracted nursing home or medical facility, or travelling at VA expense to receive medial care, or
- if the veteran had an open claim for VA pension or compensation at the time of death and is found to have been eligible.
It is important to remember that the VA will not pay for funeral services or burial/cremation costs when you make arrangements; the Burial Allowance will reimburse only some of the cost at a later date.
Deaths caused by an injury or disability related to military service may qualify for Burial Allowances up to $2,000 if the veteran died after September 11, 2001. Service-related deaths prior to 2001 (if you have not already applied for your loved one’s Burial Allowance) may entitled to Burial Allowances up to $1,500. Additionally, if the veteran’s death was related to military serivce, some of the cost of transportation to the cemetery may be reimbursed if the veteran is buried in a VA national cemetery.
For deaths after October 1, 2011 not directly related to military service, the Burial Allowance depends on whether the veteran died in a VA hospital, VA-contracted nursing home, or elsewhere. If the veteran died in a VA hospital or VA-contracted nursing home, the VA will pay a Burial Allowance for funeral expenses of up to $700; the VA may also reimburse some of the cost of transporting the veteran’s remains for burial. If the veteran died somewhere outside the VA medical system, the VA will pay a Burial Allowance for funeral expenses of up to $300. Regardless of where the veteran died, the VA will also pay a $700 Burial Allowance for a burial plot and interment (if the veteran is not buried in a state or national cemetery).
If your loved one died before October 1, 2011, but you never filed for his or her Burial Allowance, you still can. For deaths not related to military service, the family of any eligible veteran who died between December 1, 2001 and October 1, 2011 may be entitled to a Burial Allowance of up to $300 for funeral expenses and $300 for a burial plot and interment costs. Families of veterans who died before December 1, 2011 may be eligible for a Burial Allowance of up to $300 for funeral expenses and $150 for a burial plot and interment costs.
Your funeral director should handle the paperwork involved in applying for your loved one’s Burial Allowance, but you can apply yourself if you choose. Download the form (VA Form 21-530, Application for Burial Benefits) here, and attach the veteran’s death certificate, DD-214, and a copy of the funeral and burial charges that show all expenses paid in full. Check with your funeral director; death certificates can be expensive, but many jurisdictions will provide a free death certificate for veterans’ applications for Burial Allowances.
Part 2 of this series will cover other burial benefits, including burial flags, government-issued grave markers, and Presidential Memorial Certificates. Part 3 will discuss cemetery options, including state and national veterans’ cemeteries and private cemeteries, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each choice. Part 4 will explain how to request military honors, what form of honors your (or your loved one’s) service entitle you to, and what to expect at the cemetery on the day of interment.