The men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our freedoms deserve the thanks of a grateful nation. Among the ways our country shows its appreciation for these sacrifices is by providing burial and memorial benefits to current and former members of the U.S. Armed Forces. This includes burial or inurnment in a national cemetery.
President Abraham Lincoln authorized the creation of the first national cemeteries for veterans soon after the start of the Civil War. By 1870 -- only eight years after signing that legislation -- 73 national cemeteries had been established. Today, 131 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico exist, as well as an additional 33 soldier's lots and monument sites. The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) National Cemetery Administration maintains these locations. Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, is the best known of these cemeteries.
Who is Eligible?
Burial in a VA national cemetery is open to any member of the U.S. Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard) who dies on active duty, and any veteran "discharged under conditions other than dishonorable." In addition, the spouse (or surviving spouse) and the minor children of an eligible veteran are generally eligible for burial in a VA national cemetery.
Other situations exist that might make someone eligible, and the directors of VA national cemeteries, or a VA regional office, determine whether someone qualifies.
What Benefits are Available?
A qualifying veteran will receive a gravesite or columbarium niche at no charge in any VA national cemetery with available space. In the case of a casketed ground burial, this includes opening and closing the gravesite, a graveliner, and a grave marker. The latter are available in a variety of materials, such as bronze, granite or marble, and different styles, such as flat or upright. The material and style are generally selected to match the existing markers at the cemetery.
Those selecting cremation and inurnment in a columbarium niche will receive a niche cover, which is available in bronze, granite or marble. Again, the material will generally match the existing columbarium covers in a particular national cemetery.
Qualifying veterans will also receive, regardless of their disposition choice, a U.S. flag. This will either drape the casket during the funeral service and until the burial, or accompany the cremation urn during the funeral or memorial service. At the conclusion of the service, the folded flag will be presented to the veteran's next-of-kin or a designated recipient.
The surviving loved ones of a qualifying veteran may also request a Presidential Memorial Certificate. Established in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, these engraved paper certificates are signed by the current U.S. president and express the gratitude of the nation.
Finally, every eligible veteran may receive a military funeral honors ceremony. This entails a minimum of two uniformed military personnel -- with at least one of them representing the deceased veteran's branch of the military -- playing "Taps" and folding/presenting the U.S. flag to the next-of-kin or a designated recipient.
How Do I Arrange for Benefits?
After the death of a veteran or his or her dependent, the family should inform a funeral director during the arrangement conference of their loved one's military service (or relationship to a veteran) and request the military burial and memorial benefits. The veteran's next-of-kin may also contact the National Cemetery Scheduling Office (NCSO) directly to begin the process.
Ideally, the family should provide the funeral director or the NCSO with a copy of the veteran's official military discharge papers. The "DD-214" form, known as the "Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty," is the most common one and has been used by all military branches since 1950. A DD-214 is generally sufficient to determine a veteran's eligibility for burial in a VA national cemetery. If this form is not available, the NCSO will gather information about the veteran and begin determining his or her eligibility that way.
Military funeral honors are provided by the Department of Defense, not the VA. Families interested in requesting this ceremony for their loved one should inform a funeral director during the arrangement conference.
“VA-NCA-IS-1 Interments in VA National Cemeteries.” www.cem.va.gov. 2011. Retrieved November 7, 2012. http://www.cem.va.gov/bbene
Burial Benefits. www.cem.va.gov. 2011. Retrieved November 7, 2012. http://www.cem.va.gov/bbene
Military Funeral Honors. www.cem.va.gov. 2011. Retrieved November 7, 2012. http://www.cem.va.gov/cem/military_funeral_honors.asp