The passing of a loved one can be an extremely difficult, emotional time. Unfortunately, there are usually many decisions to be made and actions to be taken by the surviving spouse and/or children, especially if the loved one was a veteran of U.S. military service. While there are numerous benefits, honors, and services to claim in your veteran’s name, it’s helpful to be prepared and organized to ensure his or her service is properly honored.
Besides the normal steps you would take with the passing of any loved one – such as choosing your funeral director and contacting your church if you would like to have a pastor offer the eulogy – there are several resources that can help you receive the benefits your loved one earned during his or her service.
One of the most important thing you can do for yourself is to gather the documents you will need throughout the process and keep them organized and handy. Some of these can actually be collected at any point in life to make things easier on yourself or your dependents; just make sure you let someone know where they are in case of an emergency. It can be particularly challenging to find needed documents or information during a sad or difficult time after a loved one’s passing, so by being prepared, you can lessen the stress on yourself or family members.
The list of common documents you or your funeral director will need to access veteran benefits include:
- A certified copy of the deceased Veterans service record, discharge, separation notice or DD-214
- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Claim Number if there is one
- Social Security numbers of the deceased Veteran, spouse, and dependent children
- Insurance policies, if any
- Certified copies of marriage license, birth certificates of children and, if any, prior marriages existed, the information regarding when, where, and how dissolved (death or divorce)
- Certified copy of death certificate of Veteran
You funeral director should be able to do most of the leg work when beginning the process of a veteran burial, including activating the benefits to help pay for expenses. Probably the most iconic images of a veteran’s funeral is the flag-draped casket and Taps being played on a trumpet. Arranging this is actually easier than you would think, as the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and numerous volunteer organizations work to ensure that every veteran receives these honors at their burial. Your funeral director will be able to apply for any burial entitlements from the Department of Veterans Affairs toward burial expenses, the allowance from Social Security, and also for the flag to drape the casket.
The VA has a toll free number you can call to learn more about benefits or get help – (800) 827-1000 – or you can visit www.vba.va.gov/survivors. Many benefits actually extend to the spouse and dependent children, or can help with expenses related to the burial, so it’s a good idea to contact the VA and see what you are eligible for. It’s important to note that in some cases, the date of application for benefits may determine which benefits can be received, so it is important to submit your application as promptly as possible.
Here are some additional important reminders and helpful tips:
- If the burial is at a military cemetery, you can request a “Military Funeral and Honor Guard” from the National Cemetery or local VFW, DAV, VVA or American Legion group. This will help provide at least two uniformed representatives of your veteran’s branch of service to attend the funeral, play Taps, and assist as pallbearers if needed. You local military recruiter may be helpful in finding you volunteers to serve as well.
- If you have been using VA-issued prosthetic equipment like a wheelchair, medical bed, or hearing aids, you can arrange to have them picked up from your home by calling the VA hospital’s Prosthetic Department.
- If the Veteran had G.I. Insurance, you may contact your County Veterans Service Officer for assistance in completing the forms.
- If the veteran is receiving the Aid and Attendance pension benefit, you can pre-pay the funeral expenses using the benefit.
Honoring your veteran will hopefully be a step in the healing process as the gratitude of the nation he or she served becomes a visible symbol during the funeral. With these steps, we hope you are able to spend less time worrying and more time remembering your loved one and the life he or she led.
Written by Megan Hammons