The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) used to only assess a U.S. veteran’s eligibility for burial benefits at the time of need. This practice often leaves family members scrambling to locate a loved one’s discharge papers and file an application at an already trying time.

As of December 2016, the VA offers a program that allows veterans to receive a pre-need eligibility determination for memorialization in a national cemetery and other associated benefits. This program helps veterans and their families to engage in more extensive funeral pre-planning, which better ensures veterans’ wishes are fulfilled and eases the burden on surviving loved ones.

Who Is Eligible for Burial Benefits?

Burial benefits are available to veterans who served minimum active duty requirements and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Surviving spouses, minor children and some unmarried, dependent adult children may be able to receive these benefits based on their related veteran's eligibility.

For complete eligibility requirements and descriptions of all VA burial benefits, download The Caregiver’s Guide to Veterans Benefits.

How to Apply

To see if a veteran or other claimant is eligible for burial in one of 135 national cemeteries and accompanying benefits like a government headstone or marker, applicants need only complete and submit VA form 40-10007 to the National Cemetery Scheduling Office via email, mail or fax.

Applicants must also include COPIES of supporting military service documents, such as discharge papers (DD Form 214). If service documents cannot be located or veterans are unsure whether they qualify, the VA still encourages submission of these applications. The VA will assist in finding the appropriate records and either make a determination or notify applicants that additional evidence must be submitted.

For those family members filing an application on behalf of a veteran who is unable to sign it due to mental incompetence or physical disability, be sure to include COPIES of documentation to prove you are authorized to sign on their behalf. Supporting documentation must describe the applicant’s incapacity or disability and illustrate your relationship to the applicant. Examples include a copy of a power of attorney document and papers related to court-appointed guardianship. According to the VA, “If the claimant is in the care of an institution, a manager or principal officer of the institution may sign the form” as well.

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How Final Arrangements Are Handled

The VA will send a written decision letter to applicants notifying them of their approval or denial for eligibility. Approved applicants’ pre-need applications, supporting paperwork and decision letters are then saved by the VA for future use at each veteran’s time of need. Families should retain copies of these documents as well.

It is important to discuss final wishes with family members and understand all the VA burial benefits veterans are entitled to. This includes how, where, and with whom the veteran would like to be interred, and what type of marker or headstone they would like. Keep in mind that this pre-need application process does not actually guarantee burial in a specific national cemetery or reserve a gravesite. These details are handled by the funeral home and National Cemetery Scheduling Office at the time of need. Making these wishes clear early on can provide peace of mind for veterans and their families.