Veterans have made important sacrifices for our country, and they deserve to be honored and remembered for their service. As a veteran, you and your loved one may qualify for burial benefits through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). However, there are many misconceptions about these benefits, so it’s important to understand what they include, who qualifies and how to request them. Here's what you need to know.
The VA pays for some, but not all, funeral or cremation expenses.
When a veteran dies, who pays for the funeral? A lot of people think the U.S. government pays for all funeral expenses. Others think a veteran gets a free cremation. However, only under certain circumstances, such as when a serviceman or servicewoman is killed in the line of duty, does the VA pay all costs for a funeral or cremation. There are other cases when certain monetary, recognition and service benefits may be available. They include:
- when a veteran dies because of a service-related disability.
- when a veteran was receiving or was entitled to receive a VA pension or compensation at the time of death.
- when a veteran dies while receiving care at a VA hospital or a facility under contract with the VA to provide care.
Some VA death benefits do apply to all honorably discharged veterans, and some veterans may be eligible for allowances that will help with funeral and burial costs. However, even under the most generous circumstances, the allowances fall far short of the actual costs of a funeral or cremation, and the family needs to make up the difference. This is why planning and funding final arrangements ahead of time can be very beneficial.
VA burial benefits include a gravesite in a veterans cemetery for both the veteran and his or her spouse.
Veterans and their spouses can be buried in one of the 138 national VA cemeteries or any state veterans cemetery with space available for veterans and their spouses. Benefits for a veteran who chooses to be buried in one of those cemeteries also include a burial liner, grave opening and closing costs, a grave marker or headstone, and perpetual care. These benefits apply to both casket burial and cremation memorialization.
Don't live close to a VA cemetery? A veteran can be transferred to any national cemetery with space at the family's expense. Some state VA cemeteries, however, require the veteran to have been a resident of that state at the time of death or have other rules around eligibility. State veterans cemeteries are run solely by the states, and you'll need to contact the cemetery directly for information.
Check the National Cemetery Administration burial benefits page to determine eligibility requirements for national and private cemetery burial funding. Your Dignity Memorial provider can help you select either a VA national cemetery, a state veterans cemetery or a private cemetery anywhere in the United States and plan a fitting tribute.
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VA death and burial allowance amounts are small compared to the actual cost of services.
Maximum allowances for VA death benefits vary according to how and where a veteran passes. Below are the most recent allowances. See the allowances for previous years at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Maximum allowances for a service-connected death:
- If the veteran died on or after September 11, 2001: $2,000
- If the veteran died before September 11, 2001: $1,500
- If the veteran is buried in a VA national cemetery, the family may be reimbursed for some or all of the costs of relocating their loved one.
Maximum allowances for a death unrelated to service:
- If the veteran died on or after October 1, 2021: $300 burial allowance and $828 for a cemetery plot
Maximum allowances for a death unrelated to service if the veteran was hospitalized by the VA at the time of death:
- If the veteran died on or after October 1, 2021: $828 burial allowance and $828 for a cemetery plot
- The family might be reimbursed for some or all of the costs of relocating their loved one if the veteran was hospitalized or in a VA-contracted nursing home at the time of death or passed while traveling to VA-authorized care.
Maximum headstone or marker allowance:
- If the veteran died on or after October 1, 2021: $231
With the average funeral cost in the United States reaching $7,848 in 2021 and the average cremation cost reaching $5,365, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, it's easy to see how VA death and burial allowance amounts fall way short of actual costs.
VA burial benefits are not automatic.
Before VA death benefits are conferred, a veteran’s family must request and present proper documentation. In most cases, the VA will need to see discharge papers (a report called DD 214) to determine eligibility. Often, families don’t have these papers or know where they are. In that case, a Dignity Memorial® provider can help secure them. Contact us for help now.
Additionally, a family must request all of the benefits for which their loved one is eligible. (The Dignity Memorial Veterans Planning Guide includes those request forms.)
Claims for allowances for a death not related to service must be filed within two years of the veteran’s funeral or cremation. There’s no time limit to file for a service-connected funeral, cremation or burial allowance.
Veterans burial benefits do not include a casket or urn.
Many military families think any honorably discharged veteran who dies gets a free casket or urn as part of veterans burial benefits. This isn’t true. Only a serviceman or servicewoman who dies on active duty receives a casket or urn as part of VA death benefits.
An honorably discharged military veteran can receive a free headstone, marker or medallion.
Regardless of where a veteran is buried in the world—in a national VA cemetery, state veterans cemetery or private cemetery—the family can request a government headstone, marker or medallion. Upright headstones are available in granite or marble, and flat markers are available in granite, marble or bronze.
Bronze medallions for placement on existing privately purchased headstones or markers come in several sizes. VA death benefits do not cover the costs for affixing the medallion to the privately purchased headstone or marker—that cost is the responsibility of the veteran's family. Niche markers for cremation cemetery memorials are also available.
An honorably discharged military veteran can receive a U.S. flag for his or her funeral.
The Department of Veterans Affairs gives a new U.S. flag to each veteran’s family. It's generally presented to the next of kin or a designated friend or family member during the military funeral honors ceremony by an active-duty member of the veteran's branch of service. Your Dignity Memorial provider offers a special case for a veteran’s government-issued flag or a memento box that will be cherished for generations to come.
Rose was our Director for the services and arranged a beautiful Memorial service in a matter of three days. She was sweet and compassionate to our 84-year-old mother, who had just lost her husband of 61 years. Presenting us with all she could provide, we thought it would be impossible to pull it all together over a weekend, but we hoped to do so as a family was in town from overseas for just a couple of days. We first met on a Friday morning, and by that Monday afternoon, she had arranged for a wonderful Celebrant to speak and full Military honors for our father. Only his small family of five were there at the funeral, and we were prepared for a nondescript service prior to meeting Rose. By that Monday, she had arranged for an Honor Guard from the local Air Force Base, a 7-man rifle core from the local Veteran’s organization for a 21 gun salute and the use of their chapel. It turned what could have been a sad, small funeral into an event that really celebrated his life. Rose and the Bauer Funeral Home were kind and sympathetic and handled every detail we did not have to worry about.—Irene Borbers, Snohomish, WA
Veterans burial benefits include military funeral honors for an honorably discharged veteran.
Servicemen and servicewomen who die on active duty, military retirees, members and former members of the Selected Reserve, and eligible U.S. veterans who were separated under any condition other than dishonorable are eligible for a military funeral honors ceremony. These honors must be requested by a funeral director on behalf of the family and include:
- Folding and presenting the U.S. flag by an honor guard of two or more uniformed military members (at least one will be from the branch of service of the deceased veteran).
- Taps played by a live bugler or recording.
For more about military funeral honors, the U.S. Department of Defense can help. Do you need help requesting military funeral honors? Contact us.
The family of an honorably discharged veteran can request a Presidential Memorial Certificate or replacement of service medals, awards and decorations.
The Presidential Memorial Certificate is an engraved paper certificate, signed by the current U.S. president, honoring the memory of honorably discharged veterans after their deaths. Eligible recipients, including the veteran’s next of kin and loved ones, can request the certificate in person at any VA regional office or by U.S. mail. Your Dignity Memorial provider can assist your family in obtaining this certificate.
It is also common for service recognition awards to be lost or misplaced. The veteran or a family member may request a replacement for a living veteran if they have the veteran’s signed authorization. The next of kin of a deceased veteran can request replacements in writing using Standard Form 180 (SF 180). There is usually no charge for medal or award replacements.
For more information or for the mailing address of the military branch office to submit your request to, call 1-866-272-6272 or go to the National Personnel Records Center website. If your family needs SF 180, a Dignity Memorial provider can get one for you.
The spouses and children of veterans may qualify to be buried in a veterans cemetery.
Spouses and minor dependents may qualify to be buried in a national VA cemetery or state veterans cemetery at no charge, even if they pass away before their veterans. There are no monetary burial benefits or military honors available to spouses or children.
A Dignity Memorial provider can help your family secure military death benefits.
We are the exclusive provider of funerals and cremations for members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and certain State Departments of the American Legion. What’s more, many years of planning funerals for thousands of veterans from all branches of service have given us experience in planning every detail of a veteran's funeral and ensuring they receive the respect and honor they have earned.
If you are a veteran or a spouse, parent or loved one planning a funeral service for a living veteran or one who recently passed, we can help you understand the VA burial benefits that may be available to you—and guide you through the process of filing the required forms. Dignity Memorial providers also offer special pricing and benefits to eligible veterans, as well as a 100% service guarantee.
Before contacting a Dignity Memorial provider to help you plan a fitting memorial, download our free guide, 10 Important Facts About Your VA Burial Benefits, to further understand and receive all the burial benefits you and your loved one deserve.
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