Any veteran who meets the eligibility criteria may be buried in a National Cemetery. The Department of Veterans Affairs maintains 131 National Cemeteries in thirty-nine states (and Puerto Rico), along with 33 soldier’s lots and monument sites; there are no national cemeteries in Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, or Wyoming. A complete list of the VA National Cemeteries, with links to each cemetery’s website, is available on the VA’s website.
The National Park Service also maintains fourteen National Cemeteries at National Historic Sites, but only two of these are active cemeteries which accept new burials. Eligible veterans may be interred at Andersonville National Historic Site in Andersonville, Georgia, and Andrew Johnson National Historic Site in Greenville, Tennessee. These sites pride themselves on “connecting the past to the present by continuing to serve as an honored burial place for modern-day veterans.”
- Service members who died while on active duty
- Honorably-discharged veterans who served during a time of war
- Veterans who joined the military after 1980, with any discharge other than dishonorable, who served at least two years on active duty (or the full period for which they were called to active duty, if they were Reservists or National Guard members activated for a shorter period).
- Retired Reservists and National Guard
- ROTC members of any branch who die “under honorable conditions” during or related to authorized training
- Certain NOAA commissioned officers who served in “an area of immediate military hazard [. . .] while in time of war”
- Certain Public Health Service commissioned officers whose service was connected to military operations
- World War II Merchant Mariners
- Members of Philippine Armed Forces who were U.S. citizens or legal aliens in the U.S. at the time of death
The government will also provide burial space for eligible dependents of veterans, including:
- Spouses (even if the veteran is not buried in any National Cemetery)
- Children (under 21 or under 23 if enrolled full-time in higher education, or any age if mentally or physically disabled)
- Parents (if the veteran’s death was due to enemy action or friendly fire in combat, or to a training-related injury, and if the veteran has no spouse or children)
Burial in a National Cemetery provides the veteran with:
- A grave space at government expense, which includes space for the interment of a spouse (usually above or below the veteran, rather than alongside, unless the spouse is also a veteran)
- Opening of the grave for burial and closing of the grave after burial at government expense; this can be a significant expense, so this savings may be important to consider)
- A government-supplied graveliner (or an allowance equal to its cost, if the family opts to supply their own graveliner)
- Perpetual care of the grave and cemetery property
State Veterans Cemeteries
Because National Cemeteries are not available in all U.S. states, the VA established a grant program to help fund State Veterans Cemeteries to better serve veterans in more areas. The VA State Cemetery Grants Program helps support eighty-five State Veterans Cemeteries in forty states and two more in overseas territories. VA provides funds to establish a Veterans Cemetery or improve an existing one, and reimburses the cemetery for each veteran’s $300 burial allowance (if veterans are buried free of charge to their families). These State Veterans Cemeteries are required to be maintained exclusively for veterans and their dependents, and they must meet the VA’s operational standards.
Seventeen more State Veterans Cemeteries operate without VA grants but usually conform to similar standards and practices. These facilities are the only State Veterans Cemeteries available in four states not served by grant-funded State Veterans Cemeteries: Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. A total of forty-four states have State Veterans Cemeteries
Eligibility requirements for burial in a State Veterans Cemetery are generally the same as requirements for burial in a National Cemetery. Some states or cemeteries may include a residency requirement.
Benefits for veterans buried in State Veterans Cemeteries are comparable to those for veterans buried in National Cemeteries, but some State Veterans Cemeteries may require a fee for the burial of dependents.
If a veteran is buried in a private cemetery- including local city cemeteries or privately-run cemeteries- the veteran’s family must pay all costs associated with the burial, including the cost of the plot and the cost of opening the grave before burial and closing it afterward. Private cemeteries sometimes include a special burial section for veterans, but often they do not. Some offer free or discounted plots to veterans, although these offers sometimes require the purchase of at least one other plot at full price.
Other burial benefits are not based on burial in a government cemetery. Veterans buried in private cemeteries may still be eligible for a Burial Allowance. The government will still supply a standard headstone or marker, and the family will still receive a Burial Flag and a Presidential Memorial Certificate.
Despite giving up some of the benefits of interment in a National Cemetery or State Veterans Cemetery, burial in a private cemetery does give you some benefits, mostly in the form of options. In a private cemetery, you can choose a privately-purchased, personalized headstone or marker instead of or in addition to the standard government marker. If other members of the veteran’s family are buried in a particular private cemetery, being buried near them may be important enough to offset the practical benefits of burial away from them in a government cemetery. A private cemetery may also be a better option for your family if no government cemetery is conveniently located.
National Cemeteries and State Veterans Cemeteries do not allow veterans to reserve burial spaces prior to the time of death. Some State Veterans Cemeteries will allow veterans to pre-register; this is not a reservation of a space, but it does mean that the veteran’s eligibility is verified in advance and his or her information is kept in the cemetery’s files. The advantage of this is that the veteran’s family is burdened with less paperwork and fewer documents to find in the stressful days following a death. Private cemeteries often allow graves to be purchased and/or reserved in advance; if necessary, they also allow graves to be purchased at the time of death.
Regardless of where the veteran is to be buried, your funeral director will usually schedule and coordinate the burial with the chosen cemetery as part of the arrangement process.
This concludes the Veteran’s Guide to Final Arrangements. It is my sincere hope that none of you will need any of this information for a very long time, but that when you do need it, it will ease your burdens at least a little. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments, and I will do all I can to help.