By TEE ROGERS
First, to all veterans, thank you for your service. I hope this information will help you or someone you know.
Recently I met with a young man whose father was near the end of his battle with cancer. Dad was retired military, and the son and family were trying to figure out what expenses would be covered and how to arrange them. They had spent hours researching veteran burial benefits, trying to decide which funeral home to trust with their father’s care, and trying to make a plan.
Many veterans and their families are not aware of what is covered, what is not covered, and what their options are.
In final arrangement planning there are two primary considerations: cemetery and funeral. Whether you choose traditional burial or cremation, both cemetery and funeral costs will impact your family – so let’s talk about them.
- Cemetery Considerations
When using a VA cemetery, the cemetery costs are covered – everything that happens after the veteran passes through the gates of the cemetery. This includes the burial space or cremation niche, vault, marker, and cemetery fees. There may be a brief service at the cemetery and transportation to the national cemetery may be covered.
Eligibility for burial in national and state veterans’ cemeteries typically includes veterans of the armed forces or when someone dies while on active duty. A spouse or minor child may also be eligible for interment or inurnment at a VA cemetery.
Arlington National Cemetery has different eligibility criteria. These may include death while on active duty, someone who is fully retired, former prisoners of war, and recipients of qualified awards.
If you’re not sure about your eligibility, there is a pre-approval process. While not required, it can be helpful for some. You can find that process and application for pre-approval here: https://www.va.gov/burials-memorials/pre-need-eligibility/
Did you know that you can choose any national cemetery?
Some veterans live in Florida, but their family or home is in another state.
There are more than 150 VA cemeteries in 42 states and Puerto Rico. There are nine in Florida.
- You can find them here: https://www.cem.va.gov/cem/cems/listcem.asp.
Some states established their own veteran cemeteries; those may have residency or other requirements in addition to veteran eligibility. They are not run by the VA, but by the state. There are none in Florida.
- You can find them here: https://www.cem.va.gov/cems/allstate.asp
Did you know you cannot reserve a space in advance?
Although you may choose any of VA cemeteries, your placement in that cemetery is not guaranteed. If a cemetery is at capacity, they will take you to the next nearby VA cemetery or to your second choice. At VA cemeteries, you cannot pre-arrange (reserve) a specific space; burial spaces are scheduled at the time of death and are chosen for you.
Did you know that you can choose cremation and still be buried?
Just as in private cemeteries, at VA cemeteries ashes in an urn can be buried in a traditional space or placed in a cremation niche (if they are available at that cemetery).
What about spouses and children of veterans?
A veteran’s spouse may be buried or inurned at a national cemetery, even if the spouse predeceases the veteran. If a veteran loses a minor child, that child may be eligible for burial or inurnment at a national cemetery.
Spouses and children of veterans are not eligible for other burial benefits such as the burial allowance or marker in a private cemetery.
What if both spouses are eligible veterans?
Spousal spaces are generally double-depth crypts (two caskets or urns buried on top of one another). You can choose to be buried or inurned in a space together (you will need to decide whose name faces front and whose name is on the back of the memorial). You can also choose spaces next to one another and each have your own marker. When the first spouse dies, the space next to them may be held for the surviving spouse. This is the only instance in which a space may be reserved.
What if a veteran chooses to be buried at a private cemetery?
There may be a cemetery where generations of family members are resting, a location that is close to family or where one feels “at home”, or other reasons for selecting a private cemetery. Some may even plan a unique remembrance like a cremation space flight or under-ocean memorial.
At a private cemetery, the family will pay for the associated merchandise and services: the space, vault, marker, cemetery professional fees, and graveside service if desired. Military funeral honors can be provided at a private cemetery or funeral service at no cost. A veteran’s marker may be provided, or a medallion that can be affixed to a niche or headstone.
You may be eligible for burial allowances to help cover funeral and private cemetery costs. The family must fully pay for the services and property in advance. The amount of the allowance is not guaranteed and will depend on whether the death is service-related and other factors. You can find updated information here: https://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/claims-special-burial.asp.
- Funeral Considerations
The VA does not cover funeral expenses; these are the responsibility of the veteran to preplan or for the family to pay in full at the time of their loss.
Funeral expenses can include:
- a funeral home taking the deceased veteran into care;
- professional fees of a funeral home;
- a casket or urn;
- care fees (e.g., embalming or cremation);
- funeral services at a funeral home other location;
- service essentials such as flowers, stationery (prayer cards, registry book, personalized programs, etc.), life story video and decor, catering, and keepsakes; and
- transportation to the funeral home and private cemetery for services.
- copies of the death certificates and coroner’s fee (for cremation).
Other burial benefits
Eligible veterans receive a burial flag that will be presented to their family, military honors for their service, and a presidential memorial certificate.
Have the conversation NOW.
A funeral director (at the time of your loss) or pre-planning advisor (before a death occurs) will be able to guide you about the veterans benefits we’ve talked about here. The funeral home may even be able to coordinate everything with the VA for you at the time of your loss.
My heart still breaks for the young man losing his father to cancer. It was an honor to help the family through that difficult process of making decisions, selecting a casket, and understanding benefits dad had earned through his service to our country. But in the days before we connected, they were worried about what would happen next; that anxiety was their focus, rather than holding one another.
Many veterans believe they don’t need to think about final arrangement planning because the VA covers everything – but that is not the case. There will be financial impacts and - often even more devastating - added stress if your benefits and your wishes are not known.
You sacrificed to protect us all; advanced planning will further protect the ones you love. It can be a difficult conversation, but it is much better to have the information before you need it – than for your loved ones to need it, and not have it.
How to engage a Pre-Planning Advisor
- Is there funeral home in your community that has served your family or friends in the past? Reach out and ask about pre-planning guidance. Many funeral homes offer this service.
- Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s information on pre-planning: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0305-planning-your-own-funeral
- You can do an online search for pre-planning funeral arrangements
Ask before meeting if they are familiar with veteran’s burial benefits. Your local VFW, American Legion, or other organization may have recommendations and may even partner with a funeral home that gives free seminars on veteran’s burial benefits.
Thank you again for your service to our country.
Tee Rogers is a Pre-Planning Advisor with Dignity Memorial, representing 15 funeral home and cemetery locations in Central Florida plus Neptune Memorial Reef. She assists families with final arrangement decisions, including providing consultations on veterans burial benefits. She also counsels families who face an imminent loss on these planning issues, is a certified representative of Neptune Memorial Reef, and serves on the Aftercare Team providing resources and support for families who have recently lost a loved one. Email email@example.com