The Department of Veterans Affairs provides burial benefits to qualifying veterans and their families. Making decisions about funeral honors, burial sites, and associated benefits is best done as far in advance as possible, which is why the VA offers pre-need counseling and eligibility services to help.
The VA offers the following basic services with additional options provided for those who may qualify for them:
- Basic eligibility determination
- Pre-need burial eligibility
- Bereavement counseling
- Veterans burial allowance
- Memorial items
What You Should Know About Pre-Need Determination
VA guidelines include a provision for veterans and their families to seek pre-need eligibility for VA burial benefits. Preparing for this type of determination means you’ll need to choose a VA national cemetery.
The VA official site reminds applicants that this pre-need process is for VA national cemeteries ONLY and those who want to be buried privately or at Arlington will need to pursue separate pre-need actions with those entities directly.
Getting a pre-need determination is NOT the same thing as a guarantee that a specific VA cemetery is available. Reservations are not available at any VA national cemetery. However, the VA does want to know the preferences of the veteran or family.
What You Need To Know About Burial In Arlington National Cemetery And Similar Facilities
In the specific case of Arlington National Cemetery, your pre-need determinations will be handled by the United States Army, which administers this cemetery rather than the Department of Veterans Affairs. The same is true of both United States Soldiers and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery.
And finally, those who are interested in cremation and not burial should know that according to the official site, “VA does not pay for cremation directly. Any item or service obtained from a funeral home will be at the families’ expense” but cremation expenses may be offset if the family qualifies for a VA Burial Allowance (see below).
Basic Eligibility For Burial In A VA National Cemetery
Who is potentially eligible for VA burial benefits?
- Service members
- Certain qualifying family members
Qualifying for burial benefits in a VA cemetery depends on at least one of the following being true:
- The deceased was a veteran with any discharge other than dishonorable
- The deceased was a service member who died while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty for training
- The deceased was a spouse or minor child of a Veteran
Family Members Not Eligible For VA Burial Benefits
Certain unmarried adult dependent children of veterans may also qualify depending on circumstances. The VA official site also maintains a list of family members who are NOT eligible for VA burial benefits. They include:
- Civilian former spouses whose marriage “ended by annulment or divorce”
- Family members of a Veteran convicted of subversive activities unless pardoned by the President of the United States
- “Other family members” who are not able to meet VA eligibility requirements
Being eligible to be buried in a VA cemetery means certain benefits are made available to the next-of-kin including the following:
- A gravesite in any VA national cemetery with space available
- Opening and closing of the grave
- A burial liner
- A headstone or marker provided by the government
- Perpetual care of the gravesite
At the time of need, those planning the memorial can request VA memorial items (see below) and DoD military funeral honors (see below).
Eligibility For The VA Burial Allowance
Eligibility for a VA burial allowance includes a requirement that the recipient of the allowance be responsible for paying the burial and funeral expenses AND the payer won’t be reimbursed by other means or have the costs covered another way.
There is also a relationship requirement. The recipient of VA burial allowance money must be one of the following:
- The veteran’s surviving spouse of any gender
- The surviving partner from a legal union
- A surviving dependent child of the veteran
- A parent of the veteran
- The executor or administrator of the Veteran’s estate
Additionally, there must be no dishonorable discharge, and one of these circumstances must be true. The veteran must have died from a service-connected disability, or while getting VA care. Other qualifying circumstances include a death:
- While getting care at a facility contracted by VA
- While traveling with proper authorization, and at VA’s expense, either to or from a facility for an examination, or to receive treatment or care
- With an original or reopened claim for VA compensation or pension pending at the time of death (certain restrictions may apply)
- While receiving a VA pension or compensation
- While eligible for a VA pension or compensation at time of death, but instead received full military retirement or disability pay
Who Does NOT Qualify For Burial Allowance Benefits:
No VA-provided burial allowance is allowed if the individual died on active duty, while serving in Congress as a member, or while serving a federal prison sentence.
VA Benefits For “Memorial Items”
Those who qualify for VA burial benefits may be eligible for VA-provided headstones, grave markers, niche markers, etc. Medallions may also be available to qualifying service members and family members.
To qualify for a headstone, niche marker, or grave marker, in most cases the veteran must have died while serving on active duty or have served a minimum of two years (24 months) of continuous active duty.
Basic eligibility for members of the Guard and Reserve include a requirement that the deceased was entitled to retirement pay at their time of death (or would have been entitled if they were over 60 years old), or had been called to active duty for purposes other than training.
Certain spouses and dependents may also qualify but the VA advises that under typical circumstances “…we provide one gravesite and a single headstone for all eligible family members”.
Burial Flag Presentation
Burial Flags are offered to the next-of-kin of Veterans and Reservists who meet any of the following requirements:
- Wartime service
- Died while serving on active duty after May 27, 1941
- Served after Jan. 31, 1955
- Served in peacetime and left military service before June 27, 1950, after serving at least one enlistment, or because of a disability that was caused/aggravated by active military service
- Served in the Selected Reserves (in certain cases), or served in the military forces of the Philippines while in service of the United States and died on or after April 25, 1951
Eligibility For Bereavement Counseling
VA grief counseling and bereavement counseling is provided for qualifying surviving spouses, dependent children, and even the parents of service members who died while serving their country. Who qualifies? Surviving family (as mentioned above) for the following:
- Service members who died while serving their country
- Reservists who died while on active duty
- National Guard troops who died on active duty
Contact the VA to learn more about this kind of counseling and how you can get a referral to your closest Vet Center to get counseling services. Call 202-461-6530.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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