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Veterans’ Benefits Part I: Burial Benefits

October 13, 2021

By Raymond M. Roberts, Esquire

Veterans honorably discharged from active duty and service members who die while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive active duty, may be eligible for Veterans Administration (“VA”) burial and memorial benefits.  In addition, spouses and dependent children of veterans and active duty service members may also be eligible for VA burial and memorial benefits.

With certain exceptions, active duty service beginning after Sept. 7, 1980, as an enlisted person, and after Oct. 16, 1981, as an officer, must be for a minimum of twenty-four (24) consecutive months or the full period of active duty (as in the case of reservists or National Guard members called to active duty for a limited duration). Active duty for training, by itself, while serving in the reserves or National Guard, is not sufficient to confer eligibility. Reservists and National Guard members, as well as their spouses and dependent children, are eligible if they were entitled to retired pay at the time of death, or would have been upon reaching requisite age.  It should be noted that under federal law, certain otherwise eligible individuals found to have committed federal or state capital crimes are barred from burial or memorialization in a VA national cemetery, and from receipt of government-furnished headstones, markers, burial flags, and Presidential Memorial Certificates.[1]

Burial Benefits are Available to Veterans

Veterans are entitled to certain Burial Benefits, including burial in a National Cemetery and burial in a private cemetery in recognition of their service. If the deceased was retired military: contact the Defense Finance and Accounting Service Casualty Assistance Line[2] to report the death and check for survivor annuity or life insurance policies. You will need the following information: (1) certified copy of the death certificate; (2) copy of your marriage certificate (spouses only); and (3) copies of the birth certificate for dependent children.

If the deceased served as a member of the United States military, you should contact the VA regarding certain benefits available to the deceased.   It should be noted that the VA does not make funeral arrangements or perform cremations.  Families should make these arrangements with a funeral provider or cremation office.  Any item or service obtained from a funeral home or cremation office will be at the family’s expense.  Your funeral director should be able to assist you in contacting the VA about veteran death benefits.   These benefits may include:

Burial in a National Cemetery

Burial benefits available include a gravesite in any of the VA’s 131 national cemeteries with available space.  There are nine (9) National Cemeteries in Pennsylvania.  Burial in a VA national cemetery is available for eligible Veterans, their spouses and dependents at no cost to the family and includes the gravesite, grave-liner, opening and closing of the grave, a headstone or marker, and perpetual care as part of a national shrine. For Veterans, benefits also include a burial flag and military funeral honors. Some Veterans may also be eligible for Burial Allowances. Cremated remains are buried or inurned in national cemeteries in the same manner and with the same honors as casketed remains.

Burial benefits available for spouses and dependents buried in a national cemetery include burial with the Veteran, perpetual care, and the spouse or dependent’s name and date of birth and death will be inscribed on the Veteran’s headstone, at no cost to the family. Eligible spouses and dependents may be buried there as well, even if they predecease the Veteran.

Of the 131 national cemeteries operated by the VA, 71 are open for new casketed interments and 19 are open to accept only cremated remains.  Gravesites in VA national cemeteries cannot be reserved in advance.  Burial options are limited to those available at a specific cemetery but may include in-ground casket, or interment of cremated remains in a columbarium, in ground or in a scatter garden. Contact the national cemetery directly, or visit www.cem.va.gov to determine if a particular cemetery is open for new burials, and which other options are available.  Typically, the funeral director will make interment arrangements by contacting the National Cemetery Scheduling Office or national cemetery in which burial is desired. VA normally does not conduct burials on weekends.

When possible, families should to prepare in advance for a veteran’s interment.  You should discuss cemetery options, including whether it should be a VA National Cemetery or a private cemetery.  If a National Cemetery is desired, determine whether they will allow casketed remains or cremated remains to be interred.  You should collect the veteran’s military information, including discharge papers.

Requests for burial in a VA national cemetery cannot be made via the Internet.  No special forms are required when requesting burial in a VA national cemetery. The person making burial arrangements should have their funeral home contact the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at the time of need.  Scheduling can be any day during the week, However, interments are only done on Mondays through Fridays.

To schedule a burial: fax all discharge documentation to the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 1-866-900-6417 and follow-up with a phone call to 1-800-535-1117.

When contacting the national cemetery, you should have the following information available:

  • Full name and military rank
  • Branch of service
  • Social security number
  • Service number
  • VA claim number, if applicable
  • Date and place of birth
  • Date and place of death
  • Date of retirement or last separation from active duty
  • Copy of any military separation document, such as DoD Form 214 (DD-214)

Burial in a Private Cemetery

Burial benefits available for Veterans buried in a private cemetery include a Government headstone or marker, a burial flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate, at no cost to the family. Some Veterans may also be eligible for Burial Allowances. There are not any benefits available to spouses and dependents buried in a private cemetery.   To submit a claim for a headstone or marker for a private cemetery, mail a completed VA Form 40-1330, Application for Standard Government Headstone or Marker, and a copy of the Veteran’s military discharge document to Memorial Programs Service (41A1), Department of Veterans Affairs, 5109 Russell Rd., Quantico, VA 22134-3903. The form and supporting documents may also be faxed toll free to 1-800-455-7143.  Before ordering a headstone or marker, you should consult with the cemetery to determine whether they will allow the government furnished marker.  Some cemeteries restrict the types of markers to flat, in-ground type markers and do not permit the style of marker provided by the VA.

Part II of this Series will discuss VA Burial Allowances, including eligibility, allowances, and Military Honors, as well as Memorial Items, including Burial flags, headstones, markers, and medallions, and Presidential Memorial Certificates.

[1] See 38 U.S. Code § 2411, https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/38/2411

[2] http://www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary/survivors/Retiree-death.html

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