Death and Burial Benefits for Veterans
Veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families sacrifice much in the service of their country, and a grateful nation looks to show its gratitude in numerous ways, even at the time of death. According to Parting.com, the average North American funeral today costs between $7,000 and $10,000, a substantial expense to military families at an especially difficult time. However, by understanding the benefits for which a military veteran and some spouses and dependents are eligible for, the financial burden can be lightened while also ensuring that the departed’s connection to the military is memorialized in death.
- Free burial in a National Veterans’ Cemetery
An eligible veteran is entitled to a free gravesite in any of the 135 national veterans’ cemeteries with available space. This includes the opening and closing of the grave and perpetual care. Cremated remains are buried or inurned in the same manner and with the same honors as casketed remains. These burial benefits are also available for spouses and dependents, even if their death precedes the death of the veteran, and their name and date of birth and death will be inscribed on the veteran’s headstone at no cost. Additionally, the VA may reimburse some or all of the costs of transporting the deceased Veteran’s remains to a National Cemetery for burial.
- Burial Benefits for Private Cemeteries
Veterans not buried in a National Veterans Cemetery may be eligible for a monetary burial benefit to help defray the cost of the burial. Veterans buried in private cemeteries may also receive a free government headstone, marker or medallion, a burial flag and a Presidential Memorial Certificate. Previously, survivors were reimbursed for expense relating to the burial and plot purchase, but the VA changed its regulations in 2014 to pay eligible survivors more quickly and efficiently. Depending on several factors – such as whether the death was service-connected, if the veteran was under VA medical care at the time of death, and the date of the death – the VA will pay a surviving family member between $300 and $749 for burial expenses and a similar amount to purchase a plot. You can download the PDF Burial Fact Sheet for more details on amounts and eligibility restrictions.
- Government headstone, marker or medallion
The VA provides a headstone or marker for eligible veterans who died on or after Nov. 1, 1990 and whose grave is marked with a privately purchased headstone, or a medallion for eligible veterans who served on or after Apr. 6, 1917 and whose grave is marked with a privately purchased headstone or marker. Flat markers in granite, marble, and bronze, as well as upright headstones in granite and marble are available. Bronze niche markers are also available to mark columbaria for cremated remains. Spouses and dependents are not eligible for a government-furnished headstone or marker unless they are buried in a national cemetery, state veteran's cemetery, or military post/base cemetery. There is no charge for the headstone or marker itself, however arrangements for placing it in a private cemetery are the applicant's responsibility and all setting fees are at private expense.
- Burial Flag
A United States flag is provided, at no cost, to drape the casket or accompany the urn of a deceased veteran who served honorably, and is furnished to honor the memory of a veteran’s military service to his or her country. The flag is generally given to the next-of-kin as a keepsake after its use during the funeral service. When there is no next-of-kin, the VA will furnish the flag to a friend making the request for it. For those VA national cemeteries with an Avenue of Flags, families of veterans buried in these national cemeteries may donate the burial flags of their loved ones to be flown on patriotic holidays. Families should keep in mind the proper way to display the flag during the funeral (which varies depending on whether the casket is open or closed), and should know that the flag is not suitable for outside display because of its fabric composition.
- Full Military Honors
By law, upon the family's request, every eligible veteran may receive a military funeral honors ceremony, including the folding and presenting the United States burial flag and the playing of Taps. An official military funeral honors detail consists of two or more uniformed military members, with at least one being a member of the veteran's parent service of the Armed Forces. Funeral home directors may request military funeral honors on behalf of the veterans' family, or VA National Cemetery Administration cemetery staff can also assist with arranging military funeral honors at VA national cemeteries. Additionally, local veterans’ organizations may assist in providing military funeral honors.
- Presidential Memorial Certificate
A Presidential Memorial Certificate is an engraved paper certificate, signed by the current President, to honor the memory of deceased veterans who are eligible for burial in a national cemetery. This program was initiated in March 1962 by President John F. Kennedy and has been continued by all subsequent Presidents. The VA administers the program by preparing the certificates that express the country's grateful recognition of the veteran's service.
Some of these benefits may be discussed and arranged for before the date of death, while others may not (for example, space in a National Cemetery may not be reserved). It is helpful for family members to be aware of the list of documents needed to access the benefits so they are not struggling to locate them during a time of grief. Funeral directors may obtain a resource kit from the VA National Cemetery Association, or families may find their local Veteran Service Officer (available through most state and county departments of veteran affairs or regional VA offices) helpful in learning more about eligibility requirements and what benefits are available in each specific case. For more information on what to do when a veteran has passed away, check out our article discussing the next steps you can take to honor your loved one.
Written by Megan Hammons