While all funerals are hard to deal with, the death of someone who has served their country can be even harder.
This can be made even harder if you are not well off and may have to pay for these costs on your own.
So, does the United States really allow its veterans to be abandoned in their final hour of need?
The US government will pay for certain costs for a funeral for veterans and active service members. They will not pay for all the options for the funeral but do cover the essential elements. If the person was dishonorably discharged, their funeral may not be covered without special circumstances.
While this is good news for those that need help to get the money for the funeral, you still need to go through the whole process to get that.
Sadly, you may not be eligible for some of the benefits. Below I have outlined the steps and processes to help you along this path at this trying time in your life.
What is the VA?
The VA stands for Veteran Affairs. They are the branch of government that you would be dealing with for most of the benefits that you would receive for the funeral and all other things related to the veteran that has passed away.
The VA was created to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” this is done by trying to serve and honor America’s veterans.
One branch of the VA is the National Cemetery Administration.
Their job is to make sure that all affairs regarding the funeral and burial of those that have served in the armed forces are taken care of.
There are 142 cemeteries that fall under this preview and they maintain them all. These are also for the eligible family members as well.
Who is eligible for benefits from the VA?
Generally speaking, it is specific to include, veterans, service members, and some family members.
These are the ones that may be eligible for burial in a VA national cemetery, but it is not all-inclusive and there are other special groups of people that are included as well.
Reading below will give you an idea of whether you or your deceased loved one are one or not.
To find out more go to see the full list of stipulations if you cannot find your situation.
The people that will qualify for burial benefits have to be one of the four below.
- A Veteran that was not dishonorably discharged.
- Any type of service member who died during active duty, active duty for training purposes, or inactive duty for training purposes.
- The legal spouse or minor child of a Veteran, this includes if the Veteran died first.
- In special circumstances the unmarried adult dependent of the Veteran (though this is starting to become more prominent as society is changing).
Is anyone else eligible for these benefits?
While there are the basic four groups of people that qualify for benefits, there are a few more categories people may fall into and still qualify for benefits.
This list below will mention all the main groups of people that may also be eligible for benefits but each has different stipulations that you will need to research or contact the VA association.
These benefits may not be fully inclusive and only cover certain parts of the funeral or burial.
- A U.S. citizen who served in the armed forces of a U.S. ally during wartime may be eligible if they meet both of the requirements listed on the VA eligibility page.
- National Guard and Reserve members may be eligible if they meet any of the five requirements on the VA eligibility page.
- Reserve Officers’ Training Corps of the Army, Navy, or Air Force members may be eligible if they meet any of the three requirements on the VA eligibility page.
- A commissioned officer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration may be eligible if they meet any of the three requirements on the VA eligibility page.
- A commissioned officer of the Public Health Service may be eligible if they meet any of the five requirements on the VA eligibility page.
- A WWII Merchant Mariner may be eligible if they meet any of the three requirements on the VA eligibility page.
- A Philippine Armed Forces Veteran member may be eligible if they meet all of the requirements on the VA eligibility page.
- A Hmong Veteran may be eligible if they meet all three of the requirements on the VA eligibility page.
Who isn’t eligible for these benefits?
The VA does try its best to accommodate and give the benefits to all those that apply, there are some situations and groups of people that are not eligible for one reason or another.
One can always appeal the denial of their application and state their case to the VA, but the original decision is rarely overturned.
Although The VA is improving and modernizing its view on issues, progress in governmental organizations is slow.
Almost all of these situations listed below could also be overturned by a presidential pardon, which again is extremely rare and unlikely.
- There are certain family members that are not eligible.-
- Former spouses who aren’t also a Veteran and the marriage was ended by annulment or divorce.
- The family members of a Veteran who was convicted of “subversive activities”.
- Citizens who were drafted but then discharged before entering service.
- Veterans won’t be eligible or a VA regional office revies the eligibility during when:
- The Veteran had separated from the Armed Forces by dishonorable discharge
- They have a character of service that disqualifies them
- They have shown undesirable, bad conduct, and had another type of discharge other than honorable.
- The Veteran had multiple discharges of varying character
- Veterans found guilty of a capital crime
- The Veteran has been convicted of a federal/state capital crime and could receive a sentence of life or the death penalty.
- There is clear and convincing evidence to show that they’ve committed a federal/state capital crime, and they have fled.
- These Veterans also will not qualify for a Presidential Memorial Certificate, a burial flag, headstone, or marker.
- Veterans convicted of Tier III sex offense and sentenced to a minimum of life imprisonment.
- Veterans convicted of subversive activities after September 1, 1959.
What do burials in a VA national cemeteries actually include?
When anyone that qualifies for burial they will get these at the minimum and can get more if they apply for the other special benefits.
These burials at a VA national cemetery will include:
- Burial and funeral costs
- Transporting the Veteran’s remains for burial
- A gravesite in any of the 142 different cemeteries where space is available
- The opening and closing of the grave
- A burial liner
- A headstone or grave marker
- Lifelong maintenance of the grave and the plot.
How much will I receive?
The amount of money you will receive and the benefits vary. But here are the amounts of money that you may receive or be remembered for.
Be sure to check with the official website before you plan as these numbers are subject to change by the government.
- For a veteran with service-connected death on or after Sept. 11th, 2001 and buried in a non-VA cemetery you should receive – is $2,000. If before Sept. 11th, 2001, $1,500. If buried at a VA cemetery you could be reimbursed some or all of the costs.
- For a Veteran with a non-service-connected death who died on or after October 1, 2018, the payout is a $300 burial allowance and $780 for a plot. If the date is before this the burial allowance will stay the same but the plot allowance will go down about $10.00 each year.
- For a Veteran with a non-service-connected death, if they were hospitalized by VA at the time of their death who died on or after October 1, 2019, the payout is $796 for the burial allowance and $796 for a plot allowance.
Do I have to wait till the death or can I plan ahead?
As with all funerals you should plan ahead.
The process for this is similar to the one for a regular funeral but it will cost less. It is mostly just filling out paperwork and having it all ready in the event of the person’s untimely death.
If you want to be buried at a National cemetery there are four steps that you need to follow to plan ahead.
- Find out if you’re eligible unless the service member died on active duty, then they’re eligible without a pre-need decision letter.
- Choose the VA national cemetery where you’d prefer to be buried. You can look for locations here. If you choose to be buried at a Veterans state cemetery go to this website.
- Get these four documents together and have the information ready to fill in for the person you are applying for. If you are not applying for yourself make sure to have a state-issued form of ID and your Social Security card as well. You need:
- Social Security number
- Date and place of birth
- Military status and service history
- Discharge papers (DD214 or other separation documents)
- Lastly, make sure to fill out applications for each person requesting a pre-need eligibility determination. One form will not cover everyone in the family. You need separate documentation for all.
- You can apply online here. If you need help you can contact a Veteran Service Officer (VSO) and they can assist you.
What type of headstone can I choose and what can I have inscribed on it?
Since it is the military and they have strict guidelines and rules, your options on these things are not as many as if you would choose to do it yourself.
You have three types of headstone/markets to choose from in different materials.
- An upright headstone made with granite or marble.
- A flat marker made with granite, marble, or bronze.
- A niche marker casted in bronze.
See my article here about gravestones for more ideas.
For the inscription, you have some things that are must be on there and are optional.
The headstone/markers must include:
- The Veterans full legal name
- The service branch
- The birth and death years of the person’s life (the dates and months are your choices)
- The section and grave number
For more information on the cost of engraving, please see my article here.
Other things that are allowed are:
- The highest rank they attained
- Their awards and war service
- The symbol of the beliefs
Things you would need to apply to get on it are:
- Any nicknames they went by
- Terms of endearment (Loving Mother, Etc)
- Any special unit identification they were in.
Can I get a burial flag?
Yes, you can request a burial flag to drape on a casket or place with the urn in honor of the military service of a Veteran or Reservist. To get the flag one of these five stipulations must be met.
- They served during wartime
- A veteran who died while serving on active duty after May 27, 1941,
- Served after January 31, 1955
- Someone who served during peacetime and left military service before June 27, 1950,
- Served in the Selected Reserves or the military forces of the Philippines while in service of the United States.
Steps to care for the flag
- Do not leave it outside for long periods of time to keep from sun damage.
- Make sure it cannot be damaged or dropped in any way.
- Don’t add or attach anything to it.
- Don’t use the flag to hold or carry things.
Somethings to remember
Here are some things to remember about what you are getting from the VA.
- There are a lot of rules and regulations on what you can and cannot have.
- It may not be what you wanted in terms of the ideal final send off.
- It will not cover all the costs of the funeral, burial, and cremation.
- If you don’t want to use the VA National cemetery you must file that in and make a request.
- You must qualify before you get the money on a spot in VA National Cemeteries
- The allowances are reimbursements, not cash handouts.
- The Presidential Memorial Certificates are only available upon request.
- The caskets are not free. Consider buying one online to save thousands of dollars, I can recommend titancaskets.com.
- If you want a Military Funeral Honors Ceremony this must be requested in advance and approved.
- The Veterans flag must also be requested in advance.
- You need all proper documentation to get process everything and this may take time if not done in advance.
- The process is not fast, it could take some time to get the requested document and get the money or refund.
- Funeral homes may try to take advantage and say things will be covered when they are not. Get everything in writing before you move forward.
Is there a time limit to file this paperwork?
Yes, you must file for a non-service-connected burial allowance within two years after the Veteran’s burial or cremation.
No time limit for filing for a service-connected burial, plot, or interment allowance exits, so you can even do this after the funeral has taken place.
Can the VA do a burial at sea?
No, they do not, the U.S. Navy provides burials at sea.
The National Cemetery Administration can’t do this but you can go to this site to learn more or, call the U.S. Navy Mortuary Affairs office on 866-787-0081 during normal office hours.
Can I be buried in Arlington National Cemetery?
This may be possible but it is not guaranteed.
The United States Amry is in charge of that specific cemetery and you can contact them here for eligibility. Arlington National Cemetery 877-907-8585.
Is there any other organization that will cover expenses and provides support?
When a service member is killed or a Veteran dies many organizations can be found to provide help and support the family. Most funeral expenses specifically are covered through the VA.
There are several different options available to surviving family members of Veterans who have passed. These benefits can be monetary, provide emotional support and some give free education to the spouse and children.
There are a lot of programs and it may be confusing to determine which ones you may be eligible for.
It is best to start with the VA and work your way down from there. When you find out what the VA will and won’t cover then you can look into certain organizations and charities to help you along.
The VA will also try to connect you with organizations in your area that will help with these things such as rotary clubs and Veterans associations.
Below are some larger organizations and charities that may help with all different types of situations including the payment of the funeral.
- USO- The USO does many different things for troops but a major one is that they work with each family and dignified transfer movement on a case-by-case basis with the Air Force Mortuary Affairs leadership. The website will connect you to other service members, military families, and veterans. They also have among other things government benefits, scholarships, discounts on services. You can go to https://www.uso.org/programs/support-for-families-of-the-fallen or call 703-375-9849 to get more information.
- ThanksUSA- is an organization that is funded by corporate donations and provides need-based college and technical vocational scholarships. Also, helps to guide children and the spouses of Veterans and enlisted troops. You can go to https://www.thanksusa.org/ or call 888-484-3876 to get more information.
- National Military Family Association- While this one may not be able to give you direct assistance the main goal of the association is to educate military families about the rights, benefits, and services available to them. So by doing this, they are educating you where you can get other services. They also try to get legislation passed to help the military and its families. You can go to https://www.militaryfamily.org/ or call 1-800-260-0218 to get more information.
- Armed Forces Services Corporation-For each family of an active duty fallen service member AFSC provides many different services that could help you in your time of need. They offer Mental Health counseling, family violence Intervention & prevention, rehabilitation, transition counseling, suicide prevention, substance abuse, crisis response, deployment support, employment assistance You can go to https://afsc.com/ or call 1-888-237-2872 to get more information.
- Military Onesource- If you are struggling financially and are in need of help, you should look right away at Military Onesource. They help out surviving spouses, parents, and children with information, resources, and counseling support during this hard time and help is available 24/7 by telephone or the internet. You can go to https://www.militaryonesource.mil/ or call 1-800-342-9647 to get more information.
- Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society- – This organization provides financial assistance for many different things and could include the funeral. They also offer educational help on budgeting and financial counseling, emergency travel funds and disaster relief for those families and those that served in the Navy and Marines. You can go to .https://www.nmcrs.org/ or call 703-696-4904 to get more information.
- Air Force Aid Society- The official charity of the Air Force, is there to help with financial aid to those in need. They also will help out with educating and finding resources for the families of those who served and are serving in the Air Force. You can go to afas.org or call 703-972-2650 to get more information.
- Coast Guard Mutual Assistance- The official charity of the Air Force, is there to help with financial aid to those in need. They also will help out with educating and finding resources for the families of those who served and are serving in the Coast Guard. You can go to cgmahq.org or call 800-881-2462 to get more information.
- Sesame Street for the kids-While they do not offer any financial aid this is a great resource for those that have children. Death is a hard thing to explain to a child in the best of times and when its a family member that may have died in an extenuating circumstance it will be even harder. These videos can help the child to start and explain the grieving process. You can go to sesamestreetformilitaryfamilies.org to get more information.
- Bob Woodruff Foundation- This foundation is one that serves veterans by finding, funding, and shaping innovative programs. They make sure that veterans and their families have access to opportunities, funding, and experiences that will enhance their quality of life. You can go to bobwoodrufffoundation.org or call (646) 341-6864to get more information.
- Veterans Advantage- Is an organization that will help you find military discounts that can be trusted and are verified as real. These can be from the local Wal-mart to buying a casket for a funeral. You can go to veteransadvantage.com or call 1-866-VET-ASSISTto get more information.
- Semper Fi Fund– This is set up for all branches of the Armed Services and anyone that has served and their families. They are dedicated to providing financial assistance right away and then lifetime support to combat wounded, critically ill, and the deceased. You can go to semperfifund.org or call 760-725-3680 to get more information.
- Fisher House– The Fisher Houses are places that are given to the military services and the Department of Veterans Affairs as a gift. They also give scholarships and local assistance to those in need. You can go to fisherhouse.org or call (888) 294-8560 to get more information.
- Hope for Warriors– They have licensed clinicians that provide holistic, person-centered care. They can offer services that address both urgent and long-term veteran and family wellness needs. They are to assist you and your family’s mental well being. You can go to hopeforthewarriors.org or call 877.2HOPE4W to get more information.
- Give an Hour– A lot of times it is hard to get support and Give an Hour identifies and addresses barriers that prevent those we serve from receiving the support they deserve. Their goal to support the families and Veterans themselves. You can go to giveanhour.org or call 1-800-273-8255 to get more information.
- Tragedy Assistance for the Survivors– This group creates gatherings for those that have survived tragedies from war whether it be the actual Veteran or the families of the departed. They have meeting and groups sessions for all ages, that include camps and sports as well. You can even have meetings online or go with your family on a retreat to help create a better life while carrying on the legacy of your loved one. You can go to taps.org/programs or call 800-959-TAPS to get more information. Taps
- Children of Fallen Patriots– The mission of Children of the Fallen Patriots is to provide college scholarships and educational counseling to military children who have lost a parent in the line of duty. This is open to members of all branches of the armed forces who have died as a result of combat casualties, military training accidents, service-related illnesses, and, suicide. You can go to fallenpatriots.org or call 866-917-CFPF to get more information.
Useful resource: Military.com
If you are struggling with paying for a funeral for a veteran, or anyone else, then you will find my following articles very useful: