Most veterans are eligible to receive burial benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Defense (DOD). These 10 facts about burial benefits will help you and your family understand what burial costs are covered, what services and products are provided, certain eligibility requirements, and how to receive specific funeral benefits.
Fact 1: VA Benefits Do Not Cover All Funeral or Cremation Costs
Burial benefits provided by the VA come in different forms. They may be monetary, honorary recognitions, and specific funeral goods and/or services. When it comes to monetary benefits, reimbursement for funeral or cremation costs is limited and usually only applies to veterans who received a discharge other than dishonorable and:
- Retired from the Armed Services; or
- Were disabled due to a service-related injury; or
- Died in a VA hospital or while in a nursing home under VA contract.
The general guidelines above are provided as an overview, but only the VA can rule on the exact benefits a veteran is entitled to.
Fact 2: Documentation Is Needed to Verify Military Service
A veteran’s “Report of Separation from the Armed Forces of the United States,” also known informally as “discharge papers,” is required to verify military service and determine eligibility for benefits. For most veterans who served after 1949, DD Form 214 was used to document the details of their service.
For those families and veterans who do not have discharge papers, they can be requested from the National Personnel Records Center of the U.S. National Archives and Records Center online, by mail and by fax.
Fact 3: A Veteran’s Next of Kin Must Request a Burial Flag
A United States flag is provided at no cost to drape the casket or accompany the urn of an eligible deceased veteran. Generally, the flag is given to the next of kin, and only one flag may be provided per veteran. An “Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes” (VA Form 27-2008) must be submitted along with a copy of the veteran’s discharge papers. Flags may be obtained from VA regional offices and most U.S. Post Offices. The funeral home handling a veteran’s affairs should also be able to assist with obtaining a flag.
Fact 4: Military Funeral Honors Ceremonies Must Be Scheduled in Advance
The law requires that every eligible veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony upon the family’s request. This ceremony includes a detail of at least two uniformed military personnel, the playing of “Taps,” and folding and presentation of the burial flag to the next of kin.
This Department of Defense program, “Honoring Those Who Served,” calls for the funeral director to request military funeral honors on behalf of the veteran’s family. Your funeral provider may work with various veterans organizations to assist in the provision of military funeral honors. For veterans who are eligible for burial in a VA national cemetery, cemetery staff may also be able to assist in making these arrangements.
Fact 5: Veterans’ Caskets Are Not Free
Neither the VA nor the individual branches of the military provide a free casket for a deceased veteran, unless death occurs while they are on active duty. However, some funeral homes offer caskets and other funeral goods and services at discounted prices to members of veterans organizations like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).
Fact 6: Presidential Memorial Certificates Must Be Requested
Initiated in March 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, the Presidential Memorial Certificate program provides an engraved paper certificate to honor the memory of honorably discharged, deceased veterans. Certificates are signed by the current President, and more than one may be requested by an eligible veteran’s next of kin.
Certificates can be requested by filling out VA Form 40-0247 and sending it along with copies of the veteran’s discharge documentation and death certificate to the address on the form.
Fact 7: Burial Allowances Are Available to Reimburse Surviving Family for Funeral Costs
A veteran’s surviving family may be eligible to receive a monetary benefit to help cover funeral and burial costs. Upon notification of a veteran’s death, eligible surviving spouses of record should receive automatic payment of this burial allowance from the VA. In cases where there is no surviving spouse, the benefit may be paid to the veteran’s children, parents, or executor/administrator of their estate, but a claim must be filed in these cases.
In addition to the burial allowance, surviving family may also be approved for a plot allowance and/or reimbursement for costs associated with transporting the veteran’s remains. For example, in the event of a non-service-related death, a burial and funeral expense allowance (up to $780) and a plot-interment allowance (up to $780) may be given, depending on the circumstances. In order to receive a VA burial allowance, the veteran must have been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable and meet at least one of the following criteria:
- The veteran died because of a service-related disability.
- The veteran was receiving VA pension or compensation.
- The veteran was entitled to receive VA pension or compensation, but decided to receive his or her full military retirement or disability pay.
- The veteran died while receiving care in a VA hospital or non-VA facility under VA contract.
- The veteran died while traveling under authorization and at VA expense to or from a specified place for examination, treatment or care.
- The veteran had an original or reopened claim for VA compensation or pension pending at the time of death and would have been entitled to benefits from a date prior to the date of death.
- The veteran died on or after October 9, 1996, while a patient at a VA-approved state nursing home.
In order to determine the final reimbursement amount, an “Application for Burial Benefits” (VA Form 21P-530) must be submitted within two years of the date of the veteran’s permanent burial.
Fact 8: There Are Eligibility Requirements for Burial in VA National Cemeteries
Members of the Armed Forces of the United States who die while on active duty and veterans who have met applicable active duty service requirements and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable are entitled to burial in a VA national cemetery. Under certain conditions, the surviving spouse and children of an eligible veteran are also entitled to this benefit.
Burial in a VA national cemetery includes the following benefits at no cost to the veteran’s family:
- An assigned gravesite (if space is available)
- Opening and closing of the grave
- A government-furnished grave liner (if necessary)
- A government-furnished upright headstone, flat marker or niche cover
- A burial flag
- Perpetual care of the grave
Cremated remains are buried or interred in VA national cemeteries in the same manner and with the same honors as casketed remains.
It is important to note that you may not reserve space in a VA national cemetery ahead of time, since these cemeteries only allow arrangements to be made at the time of death. Therefore, there is no guarantee that spouses or other eligible family members will be buried beside or near the veteran. Additionally, there are often waiting periods before burials can occur, especially if the surviving family does not have proper documentation and the VA must verify the veteran’s eligibility.
Fact 9: Headstones, Markers and Niche Covers for Use in Private Cemeteries Must Be Requested
The VA, upon request and at no charge to the applicant, will furnish an upright headstone or flat marker for the grave of any deceased eligible veteran in any cemetery around the world. Upright headstones are available in granite and marble, and flat markers are available in granite, marble and bronze. Bronze niche markers for cremated remains are also available. Keep in mind that the style provided must be consistent with existing monuments or markers at the veteran’s place of burial.
An “Application for Standard Government Headstone or Marker for Installation in a Private or State Veteran’s Cemetery” (VA Form 40-1330) must be submitted.
Government medallions are also available for affixing to privately purchased headstones or markers for eligible veterans who are interred in private cemeteries. A veteran may not receive both a government-furnished headstone, marker or niche cover AND a medallion.
A “Claim for Government Medallion for Placement in a Private Cemetery” (VA Form 40-1330M) must be submitted.
Fact 10: Replacement Military Service Medals, Awards and Decorations Must Be Requested
Military service medals, awards and decorations are available from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). Family members may request medals and awards for living veterans only if they have obtained the veteran’s signed authorization. For deceased veterans, requests are accepted from the next of kin.
Standard form 180 (SF 180) is recommended to submit your request, along with a copy of the veteran’s discharge papers. Requests should be submitted by mail to the appropriate military service branch division of the NPRC, not the addresses listed on SF 180. Generally, there is no charge for medal or award replacements. For more information and the mailing addresses of the military branch offices to submit requests, call 1-86-NARA-NARA (1-866-272-6272) or visit the NPRC website.