One of the eventualities in life that spouses and families of veterans face is the death of their loved one who served America in uniform. To help ease the burden on loved ones, veterans can make preparations in advance.
The first step is to make certain the family has easy access to important documents such as:
- The veteran’s discharge certificate (DD form 214).
- VA documents, if any, indicating a VA claim number.
- A copy of all marriage certificates and divorce decrees (if any previous marriages).
- Insurance policies, including beneficiary designation.
- A copy of the family will (not required for VA benefits).
- Location of safety deposit boxes (not required by VA).
VA burial and memorial benefits
Veterans who die on active duty, or with discharges that are other than dishonorable, are entitled by law to:
- A gravesite in any national cemetery with available space, opening and closing of the grave.
- A government headstone, marker, urn, or medallion in a national and/or private cemetery.
- A government-issued U.S. flag to drape over the casket, and for presentation to the surviving spouse or next-of-kin.
- A Presidential Memorial Certificate signed by the president of the United States.
Burial in a VA national cemetery
Every eligible veteran who is entitled to burial in a national cemetery as long as space is available and the following conditions are met:
- Veteran was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
- Veteran was not subsequently convicted for offenses involving prohibited weapons of mass destruction, genocide and international terrorism.
- With certain exceptions, service beginning after Sept. 7, 1980, as an enlisted person and service after Oct. 16, 1981, as an officer must have served for a minimum of 24 months or the full period for which the person was called to active duty. For a description of requirements: see Eligibility Tab
Burial benefits in a VA national cemetery include the following: gravesite, headstone, marker or medallion, opening and closing of the grave, and perpetual care of the grave site. Many national cemeteries have columbaria or gravesites for cremated remains. Gravesites in national cemeteries cannot be reserved. Many national cemeteries are closed to new casket interments. Funeral directors or others making burial arrangements must apply at the time of death.
Spouses and minor children of eligible veterans and of servicemembers may also be buried in a national cemetery. If a surviving spouse of an eligible veteran marries a nonveteran, and remarriage was terminated by death or divorce of the non-veteran, the spouse is subsequently eligible for burial in a national cemetery.
Visit the National Cemetery Administration website at www.cem.va.gov for a listing of all national cemeteries and state veterans cemeteries. Send questions on benefits eligibility to VA at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Headstones and markers
VA provides headstones and markers anywhere in the world for the unmarked graves of veterans who died before Sept. 11, 2001. For the marked graves of veterans who died on or after Sept. 11, 2001, double marking is authorized. Flat bronze, flat granite, flat marble, upright granite and upright marble type are available to mark the grave in a style consistent with the cemetery. Niche markers are also available for urns.
When burial is in a national cemetery or state veterans cemetery, the headstone is ordered by the cemetery, which will place it on the grave. When burial occurs in a private cemetery, the headstone must be applied for from VA. The headstone is then shipped at government expense. VA does not pay the cost of placing the headstone on the grave. The cost is borne by the veteran’s family or other party. These charges may be included in many prepaid funeral packages. VA Form 40-1330 (application for headstone) can be obtained from most funeral home directors, through veterans service officers, or through VA. This form may also be downloaded and printed out by visiting www.cem.va.gov/hmm/.
VA rules allow for custom inscriptions on headstones. Belief symbols such as Christian Crosses, Stars of David, Islamic Crescents and others are available. However, VA has limited other graphics such as logos, military decorations and fraternal organization marks. The best way to assure that you get the desired stone or plaque is by obtaining and filling out VA Form 40-1330 (Application for Standard Government Headstone or Marker for Installation in a Private or State Veterans Cemetery) and filing it with other documents. When a spouse or child is buried in the same grave as a veteran, VA will have a contractor inscribe the reverse side of the headstone. Twenty-year reservists are eligible for a headstone or marker.