By Jim Miller
Dear Savvy Senior,
Does the VA provide any special burial benefits to old veterans? My dad, who has late-stage Parkinson’s disease, served during the Vietnam War in the 1960s.
Most U.S. veterans are eligible for burial and memorial benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration. Veterans who were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable are eligible. To verify your dad’s discharge, you’ll need a copy of his DD Form 214 “Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty,” which 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.
National Cemetery Benefits
If your dad is eligible, and would like to be buried in one of the 136 national or 111 grant-funded state and tribal VA cemeteries (see www.cem.va.gov/cem/cems/listcem.asp for a list), the VA provides a host of benefits, at no cost to the family, including: a gravesite; opening and closing of the grave; 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 (after the funeral service; the flag is given to the next-of-kin as a keepsake); and a presidential memorial certificate.
National cemetery burial benefits are also available to spouses and dependents of veterans.
If your dad is cremated, his remains will be buried or inurned in the same manner as casketed remains.
Funeral or cremation arrangements and costs are not, however, taken care of by the VA. They are the responsibility of the veteran’s family, but some veteran’s survivors are eligible for burial allowances, which are explained below.
If you’re interested in this option, the VA offers a preneed burial eligibility determination program at www.cem.va.gov/pre-need or call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117.
Private Cemetery Benefits
If your father is going to be buried in a private cemetery, the benefits available include a free government headstone or 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 (some burial allowances may be available), 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” by a bugler or an electronic recording.
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 www.cem.va.gov or call 800-827-1000.
In addition to the burial benefits, some veteran’s survivors may also qualify for a $300 burial allowance (or $780 if hospitalized by VA at time of death) and $780 for a plot, to those who choose to be buried in a private cemetery. To find out if your dad is eligible, see Benefits.va.gov/benefits/factsheets/burials/burial.pdf.
To apply for burial allowances, you’ll need to fill out VA Form 21P-530 “Application for Burial Benefits.” You need to attach a copy of your dad’s discharge document (DD 214 or equivalent), death certificate, funeral and burial bills. They should show that you have paid them in full. You may download the form at VA.gov/vaforms.
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.