Table of Contents
- Vet Funeral and Burial Benefits: What eligibility requirements are involved?
- What preplanning can a veteran do regarding cremation or burial?
- Military Service Members: What funeral and memorial benefits exist?
- What memorial benefits is an eligible veteran guaranteed?
- Do spouses, children, and parents of vets have benefits?
- Non-Service-Connected vs. a Service-Connected Death: What’s the difference?
- Are there special government death benefits when someone dies in active duty?
- Veteran Funeral Benefits: What is the application process?
- How can vets receive a spot in a national cemetery?
- What happens when a family can’t pay for a veteran’s cremation?
Veterans and military service members are afforded a number of benefits, and so are their families. Keeping up with what those benefits are and who is eligible for them can be difficult, which is why we’re providing this comprehensive FAQ. It covers all the details vets and families need to know about government death benefits, and it touches on a few survivor and dependent benefits that are available. Check out the answers below and the numerous links to resources, forms, and benefit applications.
Vet Funeral and Burial Benefits: What eligibility requirements are involved?
To be eligible for vet burial benefits, someone has to be a veteran, typically one who was discharged in a status other than dishonorable. That means you are fully out of the service — including the Reserves — and that your DD Form 214 records a discharge status that is anything except dishonorable. Current military service members do also have some benefits related to burial, but they are different from vet benefits.
What preplanning can a veteran do regarding cremation or burial?
A veteran who is involved in end-of-life or estate planning might want to begin the process of planning for a cremation or burial. While he or she can pre-confirm eligibility for VA-related benefits and work with a provider to prepay for services, vets can’t reserve spots in national cemeteries ahead of time. Those spots are provided as the need arises.
If you’re a veteran who is planning ahead in any way, make sure to leave information about your plans for family members. Include your wishes for memorial services, burial, or cremation as well as a list of contact numbers that might be helpful, such as any funeral or cremation provider you’ve contacted or worked with.
At the time of need, family members can reach out to providers, such as Neptune Society, for assistance in planning a memorial or cremation and accessing veteran benefits.
Military Service Members: What funeral and memorial benefits exist?
Any veteran who meets eligibility requirements — typically just service provable via a DD Form 214 and discharge other than dishonorable — is eligible for military honors at a funeral or memorial service. Those honors include representation from the vet’s branch of the military, a flag folding ceremony and presentation of the flag to the next of kin, and the playing of Taps either by a live bugle player or over a sound system.
Life Insurance Benefits for Service Members and Vets
Many vets and service members are also eligible for VA-provided life insurance. Some of the plans include:
- Service members Group Life Insurance (SGLI), which is a life insurance policy active service members and reserve members can purchase. It’s a cost-effective plan, and premiums are deducted pretax.
- Service-Disabled Veteran’s Insurance (S-DVI), which is a life insurance policy option for vets who have experienced a disability related to service. For more information about specific eligibility requirements, vets can check out the S-DVI benefits page
- Veterans Group Life Insurance (VGLI), which allows veterans to continue their life insurance coverage after they leave the service. You have to apply within a year and 120 days following discharge; for additional application and eligibility requirements, check out the VGLI benefits page.
Burial and Plot Allowance for Veterans
Vets who are buried in a national cemetery receive a burial site, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a government headstone or marker, and memorial certificate free of charge. That does assume that the national cemetery has space available; some are only offering space for cremated remains at this time. Even if vets are buried outside of a national cemetery, they can still receive a government headstone and memorial certificate, and they may qualify for a burial and plot allowance to help cover costs. As of August 2017, the allowance is:
- Service-connected death after September 1, 2001
- Maximum benefit is $2,000
- Nonservice-connected death after October 1, 2016
- Maximum $300 burial benefit
- Maximum $749 plot allowance
If a veteran passes away while in the care of the VA hospital or in transport for the purpose of medical treatment, the maximum benefit may be slightly higher.
Note that the VA provides this benefit in the form of a reimbursement. Families must pay for the services and submit documents and receipts to receive the benefit, which can take up to six months to process.
What memorial benefits is an eligible veteran guaranteed?
Eligible veterans are guaranteed, by federal law, several memorial benefits. They include:
- Representation by the appropriate military service branch at the funeral or memorial
- The presentation of a memorial flag
- Taps played at the service
- A place in a national cemetery if desired and if the cemetery in question has room
- A government headstone or marker
- A Presidential certificate
Do spouses, children, and parents of vets have benefits?
The family of a veteran or military service member does have access to some benefits, including survivor and dependent benefits. Some of the benefits include pension payments, educational assistance programs, and help with home loans. The VA website provides a breakdown of all these benefits and who might be eligible. Eligibility for vet-related family benefits is affected by remarriage; a widow or widower who marries again may lose access to some of these benefits. Dependent benefits depend on the age of the child and whether he or she is disabled and may still be considered a dependent.
One of the benefit spouses and children have is known as Dependency and Indemnification Compensation, which is paid out to the eligible survivors of those who pass away as a result of service-related injury or illness or who are killed in the line of duty. The benefits have very specific eligibility requirements, which are detailed by the VA on its website.
Eligible family members can apply for DIC benefits via an online form or work with a representative from the local VA for assistance.
Non-Service-Connected vs. a Service-Connected Death: What’s the difference?
A service-connected death is when a veteran or military service member passes away due to conditions or complications that are directly related to his or her service. Service-related deaths don’t require that someone be killed in combat, though. If a vet dies because of an illness, disability, or other factor related to his or her service, it might be considered a service-connected death. If it is not, it will be considered a nonservice-connected death.
Are there special government death benefits when someone dies in active duty?
The benefits received by a service member’s family if they pass away during active duty depend on the branch of the military under which the person is serving. Some possible benefits that might be paid to or available to surviving family members include:
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, or DIC, which is a monthly benefit paid to surviving dependents
- A death gratuity of up to $100,000 paid to the next of kin when someone dies during active duty or during training for active duty. This benefit is paid first to the person’s legal spouse; if there is no spouse, the benefit goes next to children, then to parents, siblings, previous guardian, or half-blood siblings, in that order.
- A death pension if a war-time veteran passes away. For more information on eligibility, amount, and the application process, check out this article.
- Tricare health insurance for surviving spouses and children
- A housing allowance to assist a surviving spouse and children
Some of the benefits listed above require that someone passes away while in active duty; others may also be available to families of veterans who pass away after their military service is over.
Another potential benefit for surviving family members is the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship. This is provided to surviving children and spouses of military service members who pass away in the line of duty during active military service. The funding can cover eligible beneficiaries for up to 36 months at 100 percent. Use this PDF from the Veteran Administration for more information on eligibility and applying for this benefit.
Veteran Funeral Benefits: What is the application process?
Applying for veteran funeral benefits can be a bit time consuming and daunting, especially since it involves government forms and processes. Funeral directors can help, and at Neptune Society, we work with families to help them ensure memorial services include any military funeral honors their loved ones are entitled to.
To request reimbursement for burial expenses from the VA, families can complete the VA Form 21-531, Application for Burial Allowance. You can use an existing online eBenefits account with the VA or create a new one by printing and mailing the form or dropping the form off at a regional VA office for processing.
To request military honors, families should contact the branch the veteran served under specifically or work through a funeral or cremation provider who offers this service. You’ll need to be prepared to show proof of service and a discharge other than dishonorable, which can be done by presenting a copy of the veteran’s DD Form 214. Families who don’t have a copy of the DD Form 214 can request one online via the National Archives.
How can vets receive a spot in a national cemetery?
To schedule a burial in a national cemetery, you must follow a number of steps. First, you’ll have to submit eligibility documentation (such as a DD Form 214) to the National Cemetery Scheduling Office. This documentation can be sent via email to NCA.Scheduling@va.gov or via fax to 1-866-900-6417.
Next, you can call 1-800-535-1117 to speak with someone about arranging the burial. The NCS Office requests that you have the following information with you before you call to expedite the process:
- Name and location of the cemetery that is your first choice
- Whether the burial is for someone who has just passed or whether it is a re-internment (you want to move a veteran who has previously been buried into a national cemetery)
- Funeral or crematory contact information
- Next of kin contact information
- The full name of the veteran and his or her Social Security number, date of birth, and date of death
- Whether the veteran lived within 75 miles of the burial location
- Any type of religious symbols to include on the headstone
- Casket or cremation
- Marital status of the veteran
- ZIP code and county at time of death
- The size of the casket or urn
- Whether the surviving spouse is a vet
- Military honors being requested
What happens when a family can’t pay for a veteran’s cremation?
If the veteran is buried in a national cemetery, the related transportation and burial plot costs are completely covered under his or her benefits, assuming the vet was discharged other than dishonorably. The VA also provides a $300 reimbursement benefit that can be used to help defray the costs of cremation.
Other organizations, such as the American Legion, may offer some assistance options for families at the time of need, and some non-military aid organizations do assist with covering the costs of cremation or burial. It’s important to note, however, that once a decedent arrives at a cremation facility, the body may not be able to be moved to another location. Families who believe they might need assistance with cremation costs should state so upfront when dealing with providers so that appropriate requests and action can be made before the decedent is transported.
The VA provides numerous benefits for veterans and their families, including burial and death benefits. From military honors at a memorial or funeral to financial assistance in covering the costs of end-of-life needs, veteran families can benefit from numerous services. You can receive assistance in getting these benefits from a funeral director, but it helps if you know what questions to ask.