Savvy Senior: How to Tap Underutilized Burial Benefits for Veterans

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Dear Savvy Senior,

What types of funeral benefits are available to old veterans? My 83-year-old father, who has Alzheimer’s disease, served during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. 

Planning Ahead

Dear Planning,

Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) National Cemetery Administration actually offers a variety of underutilized burial benefits to veterans as well as their spouses and dependents.

Most U.S. veterans (both combat and non-combat) who didn’t receive a dishonorable discharge are eligible for burial benefits. To verify your dad’s discharge, you’ll need a copy of his DD Form 214 “Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty.” If you don’t have it, you can request online at Archives.gov/veterans.

Here’s a rundown of some of the different benefits that are available to veterans that die a nonservice related death.

Military Cemetery Benefits

If your dad’s eligible and would like to be buried in one of the 155 national or 119 state, territory or tribal-operated cemeteries (see VA.gov/find-locations), the VA provides a number of benefits at no cost to the family, including: a gravesite; opening and closing of the grave and perpetual gravesite care; a government headstone or marker; a United States burial flag that can be used to drape the casket or accompany the urn; and a Presidential Memorial Certificate.

If your dad is cremated, his remains will be buried or inurned in the same manner as casketed remains.

But be aware that funeral or cremation arrangements and costs are not taken care of by the VA. They are the responsibility of the veteran’s family, but some veteran’s survivors may be eligible for burial allowances.

The VA also offers a memorial web page called the Veterans Legacy Memorial for any veteran buried in a national, state, territorial or tribal cemetery. This allows families to post pictures and stories of their loved one online as a way to remember and honor their service.

If you’re interested in this option, the VA has a pre-need burial eligibility determination program to help you plan ahead before your dad passes. See VA.gov/burials-memorials/pre-need-eligibility or call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117.

Private Cemetery Benefits

The VA also provides benefits to veterans buried in private cemeteries. If your dad chooses this option, the VA benefits include a free government headstone or grave marker, or a medallion that can be affixed to an existing privately purchased headstone or marker; a burial flag; and a Presidential Memorial Certificate.

Funeral or cremation arrangements and costs are again the responsibility of the family, and there are no benefits offered to spouses and dependents that are buried in private cemeteries.

Military Funeral Honors

Another popular benefit available to all eligible veterans buried in either a national or private cemetery is a military funeral honors ceremony. This includes an honor guard detail of at least two uniformed military persons, folding and presenting the U.S. burial flag to the veteran’s survivors, and the playing of Taps.

The funeral provider you choose will be able to assist you with all VA burial requests. Depending on what you want, certain forms may need to be completed which are always better to be done in advance.

For a complete rundown of burial and memorial benefits, eligibility details and required forms visit Cem.va.gov.

Burial Allowances

In addition to the burial benefits, some veteran’s survivors may also qualify for a $948 burial allowance and $948 for a plot to those who choose to be buried in a private cemetery. And $231 for a headstone or grave marker allowance. To find out if your dad is eligible or to apply, see VA.gov/burials-memorials/veterans-burial-allowance.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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