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Veteran’s Guide to Final Arrangements, Part 3: Grave Markers

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Standard Government Headstone from the VA

Standard Government Headstone from the VA

Read Part 1 of the Final Arrangements series here, and Part 2 here.

Marker Types and Materials

The VA will provide each deceased veteran with an upright grave marker in granite or marble, or a flat grave marker in granite, marble, or bronze.  Upright grave markers are two-to-three-inch thick slabs which stand vertically at the head of a grave; they look like typical headstones.  Flat grave markers rest either level with the ground or a few inches higher, depending on the rules in your chosen cemetery.  They are often used to mark individual graves within a family plot, or as “footstones” to mark the feet of graves already marked by headstones.  However, it is perfectly acceptable to use a flat marker as the sole marker at the head of an individual grave.

It is important to check with the cemetery in which the veteran will be buried before you request a grave marker from the VA, because some private cemeteries have rules about what marker styles and materials are permitted in the cemetery.  Some also require a concrete slab to be installed as a base for flat markers, while others require flat markers to be installed flush with the ground for ease of maintenance.

Before choosing a marker style, you should also consider the environment where the veteran will be buried.  Marble is more susceptible than the other materials to erosion over time by very acidic soil or in areas which experience acid rain.  Ask your funeral director or cemetery officials if you are unsure which material would be a good long-term choice for your area.

If the veteran is buried in a national cemetery or state veterans’ cemetery, usually only one marker style (upright, in most cemeteries) and material will be available.

Inscriptions

Because VA markers are government-issued items, their appearance is fairly standardized and options for personalization are limited.  Standard inscription items for veterans’ markers include:

  • Emblem of Belief:  Religious emblems are available for most major religious groups, including several Christian denominations, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Wicca, and Atheism.  If none of these options matches the veteran’s beliefs, the Emblem of Belief may be left off the inscription.
  • Full Legal Name.
  • Highest Rank Attained.
  • Branch of Service.
  • Awards:  Only certain awards and decorations may be listed in the inscription- the Congressional Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart.
  • Date of Birth.
  • Date of Death.
  • Additional Items may be added to the inscription at the government’s expense if you request them in Block 27 of the marker application form.  Eligible items include:
    • A brief nickname or term of endearment;
    • Other military or civilian credentials, such as Doctor or Reverend; and
    • Special unit designations, such as the Women’s Air Corps or the Seabees.

If your family wants to have a person inscription added, you can request (in Block 27 of the form) that space be left blank for your inscription below the standard one.  The will only reserve two lines of blank space on a flat marker; however, the VA considers reserved space completely unnecessary on upright markers because you can technically have additional inscriptions added to the back of the marker.  If you would prefer that your personal inscription appear on the front of the marker, there is usually space left after the standard inscription, thanks to the marker’s height.

For Spouses

For spouses of veterans interred in a national cemetery or state veterans’ cemetery, the VA will inscribe the spouse’s name and basic information on the reverse side of the veteran’s upright marker.  If the veteran is buried in a private cemetery, the VA will not pay for the spouse’s inscription, but the family may have an inscription placed on the reverse side of the marker or below the veteran’s inscription.

Special Circumstances

If the veteran’s grave is already marked, or if your family plans to purchase a private headstone for the grave, the VA will still provide a grave marker if one is requested.  Many people in this situation request a flat marker and place it at the foot of the grave as a “footstone,” or alongside or in front of the privately-purchased headstone as an addition.  Be sure to check with your chosen cemetery before choosing either of these options.  If you do not want a second marker at the veteran’s grave, the VA will provide a medallion which can be attached to your privately-purchased gravestone.

For veterans who chose cremation, bronze niche markers are available to mark the veteran’s interment site in a columbarium.  For those who chose cremation and scattering or a keepsake urn, rather than interment, memorial headstones are available from the VA with the words “In Memory” engraved above the standard inscription.  Memorial headstones will also be provided for veterans who are buried at sea, whose remains were not recovered or identified, or who have chosen to donate their remains for scientific study.

Ordering the Marker

Typically, your funeral director will collect information from you and handle the marker application process as part of the veteran’s funeral arrangements.  However, if you choose to order your loved one’s marker yourself, you can use VA Form 40-1330, Application for Standard Government Headstone or Marker.  Mail or fax the application, along with a copy of the veteran’s discharge papers, to the address on the form; please remember not to send the veteran’s original discharge papers, since the VA will not return original documents.

If the veteran is buried in a national cemetery or state veterans’ cemetery, the cemetery will collect information from you on its own form and order the veteran’s grave marker.

Setting Your Marker

In VA national cemeteries, the marker will be installed by the cemetery’s staff at no expense to the family.  Some state cemeteries may charge a setting fee for this service.  In a private cemetery, it is the family’s responsibility to arrange and pay for the installation of the marker; usually you make arrangements for this with your funeral director or cemetery.