Veterans discharged from active duty under conditions other than dishonorable and service members who die while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training, as well as spouses and dependent children of Veterans and active duty service-members, may be eligible for VA burial and memorial benefits. The Veteran does not have to die before a spouse or dependent child for them to be eligible.
With certain exceptions, active duty service beginning after Sept. 7, 1980, as an enlisted person, and after Oct. 16, 1981, as an officer, must be for a minimum of 24 consecutive months or the full period of active duty (as in the case of reservists or National Guard members called to active duty for a limited duration). Active duty for training, by itself, while serving in the reserves or National Guard, is not sufficient to confer eligibility. Reservists and National Guard members, as well as their spouses and dependent children, are eligible if they were entitled to retired pay at the time of death, or would have been upon reaching requisite age. See Chapter 8 for more information.
VA’s National Cemetery Scheduling Office or local national cemetery directors verify eligibility for burial. A copy of the Veteran’s discharge document that specifies the period(s) of active duty and character of discharge is usually sufficient to determine eligibility. In some instances, a copy of the deceased’s death certificate and proof of relationship to the Veteran (for eligible family members) may be required.
Under Section 2411 of Title 38 of the United States Code, certain otherwise eligible individuals found to have committed federal or state capital crimes are barred from burial or memorialization in a VA national cemetery, and from receipt of government-furnished headstones, markers, medallions, burial flags, and Presidential Memorial Certificates. Veterans and other claimants for VA burial benefits have the right to appeal decisions made by VA regarding eligibility for national cemetery burial or other memorial benefits. Chapter 13 discusses the procedures for appealing VA claims. This chapter contains information on the full range of VA burial and memorial benefits. Readers with questions may contact the nearest national cemetery, listed by state in the VA Facilities section of this book, call 1-800-827-1000, or visit the Web site at www.cem.va.gov.
Burial in VA National Cemeteries
Burial in a VA national cemetery is available for eligible Veterans, their spouses and dependents at no cost to the family and includes the grave site, grave-liner, opening and closing of the grave, a headstone or marker, and perpetual care as part of a national shrine. For Veterans, benefits also include a burial flag (with case for active duty) and military funeral honors. Family members and other loved ones of deceased Veterans may request Presidential Memorial Certificates.
VA operates 131 national cemeteries, of which 72 are open for new casket interments and 18 are open to accept only cremated remains. Burial options are limited to those available at a specific cemetery but may include in-ground casket, or interment of cremated remains in a columbarium, in ground or in a scatter garden. Contact the national cemetery directly, or visit our Web site at: www.cem.va.gov to determine if a particular cemetery is open for new burials, and which other options are available.
The funeral director or the next of kin makes interment arrangements by contacting the National Cemetery Scheduling Office or, in some cases, the national cemetery in which burial is desired. VA normally does not conduct burials on weekends. Grave sites cannot be reserved; however, VA will honor reservations made under previous programs.
Surviving spouses of Veterans who died on or after Jan. 1, 2000, do not lose eligibility for burial in a national cemetery if they remarry. Burial of dependent children is limited to unmarried children under 21 years of age, or under 23 years of age if a full-time student at an approved educational institution. Unmarried adult children who become physically or mentally disabled and incapable of self-support before age 21, or age 23 if a full-time student, also are eligible for burial.
Certain Eligible Parents. A new federal law passed in 2010 (Public Law 111-275) extends burial benefits to certain parents of service members who die as a result of hostile activity or from training-related injuries who are buried in a national cemetery in a grave site with available space. The biological or adopted parents of a service-member who died in combat or while performing training in preparation for a combat mission, who leaves no surviving spouse or dependent child, may be buried with the deceased service-member if the Secretary of Veterans Affairs determines that there is available space. The law applies to service-members who died on or after Oct. 7, 2001 and to parents who died on or after Oct. 13, 2010.
Headstones, Markers and Medallions: Veterans, active duty service members, and retired Reservists and National Guard service members, are eligible for an inscribed headstone or marker for their grave at any cemetery – national, State Veterans, or private. VA will deliver a headstone or marker at no cost, anywhere in the world. For eligible Veterans whose deaths occurred on or after Nov. 1, 1990, VA may provide a government headstone or marker even if the grave is already marked with a private one, or VA may provide a medallion instead of a headstone or marker for Veterans’ graves in private cemeteries when the grave is already marked with a privately-purchased headstone or marker. Spouses and dependent children are eligible for a government headstone or marker only if they are buried in a national or State Veterans cemetery.
Flat markers are available in bronze, granite or marble. Upright headstones come in granite or marble. In national cemeteries, the style provided will be consistent with existing monuments at the place of burial. Niche markers are available to mark columbaria used for inurnment of cremated remains. Medallions are made of bronze and are available in three sizes: 5-inch, 3-inch, and 1 ½-inches.
Headstones, markers and medallions previously provided by the government may be replaced at the government’s expense if badly deteriorated, illegible, vandalized or stolen. To check the status of a claim for a headstone or marker for placement in a national or State Veterans cemetery, call the cemetery. To check the status of one being placed in a private cemetery, call 1-800-697-6947.
Inscription: Headstones and markers must be inscribed with the name of the deceased, branch of service, and year of birth and death. They also may be inscribed with other optional information, including an authorized emblem of belief and, space permitting, additional text including military rank; war service such as “World War II;” complete dates of birth and death; military awards; military organizations; civilian or Veteran affiliations; and personalized words of endearment.
Private Cemeteries: To submit a claim for a headstone, marker or medallion for a private cemetery, mail a completed VA Form 40-1330 (available at www4.va.gov/vaforms/va/pdf/VA40-1330.pdf), Application for Standard Government Headstone or Marker, and a copy of the Veteran’s military discharge document to Memorial Programs Service (41A1), Department of Veterans Affairs, 5109 Russell Rd., Quantico, VA 22134-3903. The form and supporting documents may also be faxed toll free to 1-800-455-7143.
Before ordering, check with the cemetery to ensure that the Government-furnished headstone or marker will be accepted. All installation fees are the responsibility of the applicant.
“In Memory Of” Markers: VA provides memorial headstones and markers with “In Memory Of” as the first line of inscription, to memorialize those whose remains have not been recovered or identified, were buried at sea, donated to science or cremated and scattered. Eligibility is the same as for regular headstones and markers. There is no fee when the “In Memory Of” marker is placed in a national cemetery. All installation fees at private cemeteries are the responsibility of the applicant.
Medallions in Lieu of Government Headstone/Marker: Public Law 110-157 enacted December 26, 2007, expanded VA authority to provide a medallion instead of a headstone or marker for Veterans’ graves in private cemeteries when the grave is already marked with a privately-purchased headstone or marker. Claimants will have the option to apply for either a traditional headstone or marker to place on the grave, or a medallion to affix to a privately-purchased headstone or marker. VA anticipates the medallion will be available during 2010. Current information regarding medallion availability is located at www.cem.va.gov.
Presidential Memorial Certificates are issued upon request to recognize the United States military service of honorably discharged deceased Veterans. Next of kin, relatives and other loved ones may apply for a certificate by mailing, e-mailing, or faxing a completed and signed VA Form 40-0247 along with a copy of the Veteran’s military discharge documents or proof of honorable military service. The form and eligibility requirements can be found at www.cem.va.gov. All requests must be sent with supporting military documents or proof of honorable military service.
Burial Flags: VA will furnish a U.S. burial flag to memorialize:
- Veterans who served during wartime or after Jan. 31, 1955.
- Veterans who were entitled to retired pay for service in the Reserve or National Guard, or would have been entitled if over age 60.
- Members or former members of the Selected Reserve who served their initial obligation, or were discharged for a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty, or died while a member of the Selected Reserve.
The next of kin may apply for the flag at any VA regional office or U.S. Post Office by completing VA Form 21-2008, Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes, available at http://vbaw.vba.va.gov/bl/20/cio/20s5/forms/VBA-21-2008-ARE.pdf. In most cases, a funeral director will help the family obtain the flag.
Reimbursement of Burial Expenses: VA will pay a burial allowance up to $2,000 if the Veteran’s death is service-connected. In such cases, the person who bore the Veteran’s burial expenses may claim reimbursement from VA.
In some cases, VA will pay the cost of transporting the remains of a Veteran whose death was service-connected to the nearest national cemetery with available grave sites. There is no time limit for filing reimbursement claims in service-connected death cases.
Burial Allowance: VA will pay a $300 burial and funeral allowance for Veterans who, at time of death, were entitled to receive pension or compensation or would have been entitled if they were not receiving military retirement pay. Eligibility also may be established when death occurs in a VA facility, a VA-contracted nursing home or a State Veterans nursing home. In cases in which the Veteran’s death was not service-connected, claims must be filed within two years after burial or cremation.
Plot Allowance: VA will pay a plot allowance when a Veteran is buried in a cemetery not under U.S. government jurisdiction if: the Veteran was discharged from active duty because of disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty; the Veteran was receiving compensation or pension or would have been if the Veteran was not receiving military retired pay; or the Veteran died in a VA facility.
The plot allowance may be paid to the state for the cost of a plot or interment in a state-owned cemetery reserved solely for Veteran burials if the Veteran is buried without charge. Burial expenses paid by the deceased’s employer or a state agency will not be reimbursed.
Military Funeral Honors: Upon request, DoD will provide military funeral honors consisting of folding and presentation of the United States flag and the playing of “Taps.” A funeral honors detail consists of two or more uniformed members of the armed forces, with at least one member from the deceased’s branch of service.
Family members should inform their funeral director if they want military funeral honors. DoD maintains a toll-free number (1-877-MIL-HONR) for use by funeral directors only to request honors. VA can help arrange honors for burials at VA national cemeteries. Veterans service organizations or volunteer groups may help provide honors. For more information, visit www.militaryfuneralhonors.osd.mil.
Veterans Cemeteries Administered by Other Agencies
Arlington National Cemetery: Administered by the Department of the Army. Eligibility is more restrictive than at VA national cemeteries. For information, call (703) 607-8000, write Superintendent, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA 22211, or visit www.arlingtoncemetery.mil.
Department of the Interior: Administers two active national cemeteries – Andersonville National Cemetery in Georgia and Andrew Johnson National Cemetery in Tennessee. Eligibility is similar to VA national cemeteries.
State Veterans Cemeteries: Seventy-nine State Veterans cemeteries offer burial options for Veterans and their families. These cemeteries have similar eligibility requirements but many require state residency. Some services, particularly for family members, may require a fee. Contact the State cemetery or State Veterans affairs office for information.
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