This week’s article is focused on providing helpful information on VA Memorial Benefits. However, before I describe veterans’ memorial and burial benefits, a description of the three VA Administrations is in order.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has three, separate administrations aimed to serve veterans with an assortment of benefits. To be sure veterans and their family members, funeral homes, and others are interacting with the proper administration within VA, here are short descriptions of the three VA administrations:
VA’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA): VHA is the largest integrated health care network in the United States, with 1,255 health care facilities serving 9 million enrolled veterans each year. Read about the VHA at https://www.va.gov/health/.
VA’s Veterans Benefit Administration (VBA): The VBA is responsible for administering extensive non-medical benefits. These benefits include compensation and pension services, education programs, insurance programs, home loans, vocational rehabilitation and employment, and other benefits. Read about the VBA at https://benefits.va.gov/benefits/ and https://www.cem.va.gov/resources.aspht .
VA’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA): The job of the National Cemetery Administration is to make sure those who served this nation are never forgotten. NCA provides dignified burial services for veterans and eligible family members by maintaining 142 cemeteries as national shrines and providing lasting tributes that commemorate their service and sacrifice to our nation. Read the details about the VCA and how to apply for benefits at https://www.cem.va.gov and https://www.cem.va.gov/resources.aspht.
I urge every veteran, his or her immediate family members, survivors, and caregivers download and read the NCA Planning Your Legacy VA Survivors and Burial Benefits Kit (Booklet) at https://bit.ly/3FGCLmE before the veteran passes away. Use this booklet and your local County Veterans Service Office to help you plan for death and apply for benefits. Veterans and their families should also read the information on eligibility for burial in a VA national cemetery at https://www.va.gov/burials-memorials/eligibility/, before the veteran expires and as far in advance as possible.
According to the National Cemetery Administration website at https://www.cem.va.gov and the NCAPlanning Your Legacy VA Survivors and Burial Benefits Kit (Booklet) https://www.cem.va.gov/docs/factsheets/Planning_Legacy_Booklet.pdf:
The NCA takes special care to pay lasting tribute to the memory of veterans who served and sacrificed and that of their families.
The VA meticulously maintains 155 VA national cemeteries in 44 states and Puerto Rico and is working to increase access to accommodate veterans and eligible family members close to home. In a few years, 95 percent of veterans will have a burial option in an open VA, state, or tribal veterans’ cemetery located within 75 miles of their home. Most, if not all, of these benefits may be provided for veterans who are interred in a state, territorial or tribal veterans cemetery. Check with the cemetery to ensure coverage.
Some benefits are also available for veterans who choose burial in a private cemetery.
Veterans with a qualifying discharge are entitled to VA burial benefits. Spouses and dependent children are eligible too, even if they predecease the veteran. The following veterans’ burial benefits may be provided:
Burial in a VA national cemetery
Opening and closing of the grave or burial of cremated remains or placement in an above-ground vault, also called a columbarium
A government-furnished grave liner
Perpetual care of the gravesite
A headstone or marker with an inscription
A burial flag
A Presidential Memorial Certificate
Transportation of flower arrangements from the committal service shelter to the gravesite
Burial in a private cemetery
A government headstone, marker, or medallion
A burial flag
A Presidential Memorial Certificate
Some survivors may also be entitled to VA burial allowances as partial reimbursement for the costs of funerals and burials for eligible veterans
Learn about veterans’ burial flags at https://bit.ly/33jVoQb. Read about VA burial allowances at https://bit.ly/3A5hLEF. Learn all about Presidential Memorial Certificates at https://bit.ly/3fxE24x. Read about burial benefits available to a veteran who is buried in a private cemetery at https://bit.ly/3FArX9e.
To determine eligibility before the time of need, a veteran should submit VA Form 40-10007, th Application for Pre-Need Determination of Eligibility for Burial in A VA National Cemetery, along with a copy of the DD-214 (do not send originals) or supporting documentation of military service if readily available by:
Toll-free fax at 1-855-840-8299 or
Mail to: National Cemetery Scheduling Office, P.O. Box 510543, St. Louis, MO 63151
To request burial at the time of need when eligibility has been determined, family members should contact the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 1-800-535-1117.
To establish eligibility at the time of need family members should scan and email the DD-214 form or other discharge papers to NCA.Scheduling@va.gov or fax them to 1-866-900-6417, and follow up with a phone call to 1-800-535-1117. Family members can make arrangements with a funeral home, National Cemetery Scheduling Office, or directly with a VA national cemetery.
Although burial plots cannot be reserved, you can plan ahead by safeguarding military discharge papers, submitting a preference of place of burial form, and discussing end-of-life planning with loved ones – and by reading the NCA Planning Your Legacy VA Survivors and Burial Benefits Kit (Booklet) at https://bit.ly/3qHV0E1.
Gravesites in a VA national cemetery cannot be reserved in advance. To prepare for a private cemetery burial, veterans and their families should decide where the veteran wants to be buried and submit a VA Form 40-10007 and other required forms.
According to the VA website https://www.va.gov/burials-memorials/eligibility/ veterans, service members, spouses, and dependents may be eligible for burial in a VA national cemetery, as well as other benefits, if they meet one of the following requirements:
The person qualifying for burial benefits is a veteran who did not receive a dishonorable discharge, or
The person qualifying is a service member who died while on active duty, active-duty training, or inactive duty training, or
The service member qualifying is the spouse or minor child od a veteran, even if the veteran died first, or
The person qualifying is in some cases, the unmarried adult dependent child of a veteran.
The specific groups of people who may be eligible for burial in a national cemetery include:
U.S. citizens who served in the armed forces of any government allied with the United States during a war
Members of Reserve components or the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps
Commissioned officers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Commissioned officers of the Public Health Service
World War II Merchant Mariners
Philippine Armed Forces Veterans
Individuals who aren’t eligible
This article only touches the surface of veterans and their family’s eligibility and application process for burial in a national cemetery or in a private cemetery. Funeral homes are a great assistance to families and using your local County Veterans Service Office (VSO) or another qualified VSO or certified veterans’ adviser is highly recommended.
To find your local County VSO, you can use the directory found online at https://www.ebenefts.va.gov/ebenefts/vso-search. To find a VFW, American Legion, DAV, AMVETS, etc. VSO, you can use the directory found online at https://www.ebenefts.va.gov/ebenefts/vso-search.
If you wish to speak directly to a VA representative, contact the VA at the following phone numbers.
For burial, Survivors Pension, DIC, or other benefits, 1-877-294-6380; for the status of VA headstones and markers, 1-800-697-6947; for obtaining bereavement counseling, 1-202-461-6530; for Telecommunications Device for the Deaf services, dial 711.
End of life planning is very important. The guide in the NCA Planning Your Legacy VA Survivors and Burial Benefits Kit will assist veterans and their families in consolidating information that will be beneficial for veterans loved ones at the time of the veterans passing. This information is for the veteran’s personal use only and should not be submitted to the VA.
Veterans should keep their personal information in a secure location, as it will contain personally identifiable information. Funeral homes usually have similar end-of-life planning guides for veterans who have not done end-of-life planning.
Finding a copy of the veterans DD214 (or other discharge papers) and following the guidance in the NCA Planning Your Legacy VA Survivors and Burial Benefits Kit (Booklet) at https://bit.ly/3GCUQ67 is essential to reducing the veteran’s family stress at the time of his or her death.
Larry Dandridge is a retired Lt. Col. In the U.S. Army. He is a Vietnam War era wounded warrior, a combat and 100 percent disabled veteran, a former Infantryman, former Warrant Officer and pilot. Dandridge is also a past Veterans Service Officer, and a current volunteer Patient Adviser, CEO Advisory Council Member, and Patient and Family Advisory Committee Member at the RHJ VA Medical Center, as well as a published author and free-lance writer. He can be reached at LDandridge@earthlink.net.