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VA Burial Benefits: Cremation and What You Need to Know

Funeral benefits and burial expenses are available to veterans through the Veterans’ Administration. These benefits and funeral honors pertain to veterans who are buried in a veterans’ cemetery or elsewhere, as well as those who wish to be cremated.

What do you need to know about creation or burial expenses for veterans?

More and more people, veterans and civilians, are choosing cremation over burial. According to statistics, the cremation has seen a steady growth rate of about 5 to 6 percent during the mid-2000s and a nearly 10 percent growth rate in the early-to-mid 2000 teens. Industry experts predict that cremation rates will rise by more than 50 percent by the year 2020 and by more than 70 percent in the decade after that.

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This is due in part to the cost of traditional burial. It can cost up to $10,000 for the average funeral and burial, so many people are opting for cremation. There’s still a significant cost, but it’s much less than burial.

There are other reasons besides costs, too, that veterans and civilians choose cremation over burial. Some people have environmental concerns about burial, while others want a simpler funeral. Still, others are taking advantage of relaxed provisions within their religions concerning cremation. For example, maybe they always preferred cremation to burial but had concerns based on their religion.

It’s important for those on active duty, those with service-connected disability, and their families to realize that cremation doesn’t mean you are foregoing a funeral. It’s possible to choose cremation and have exactly the same end of life celebration you’d have if you’d chosen burial. The memorial service is up to the individual’s discretion, regardless of what choice he or she made. This can be an especially sensitive issue for veterans because of the ceremonial benefits to which a vet is entitled. A funeral for a cremated service member can include everything that a funeral for a buried service member would feature.

Pre-Planning a Funeral and Cremation for a Veteran

Veterans often choose to pre-plan their funeral and burial arrangement to make the emotional process much easier for their families. Many families struggle to find the necessary paperwork for a military funeral (including the Military Discharge DD214 paperwork) when their loved one dies, which is needed to plan a veteran’s funeral. Having this information readily available and already on file with a funeral planner can save a great deal of time and frustration. This also makes it easier for the funeral director to help with veteran’s burial benefits, flag application, and memorial certificate application.

It’s a good idea for everyone to pre-plan their funeral to ensure things go as you wish, and to avoid problems and an emotional strain on your family. Veterans are encouraged to put their wishes onto paper so everyone knows how to proceed when their loved one’s life comes to an end.

What Funeral and Burial Benefits are Available for Veterans?

Service in the military entitles a deceased veteran to a variety of benefits related to their funeral and burial or cremation, including:

  • Burial benefits including a gravesite at more than 130 national veterans’ cemeteries that includes opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care of the site, a headstone or grave marker, a burial flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate. All of these benefits are free of charge.
  • Families of veterans can receive reimbursement for $1500 to $2000 for funeral expenses based on when the veteran’s death occurred for service-related deaths. Non-service related death benefits include $300 to $700 for burial and funeral expenses depending on the date of the death when a vet is laid to rest in a cemetery not run by the US government.
  • Military funeral honors upon request, which includes the presentation of the United States flag and the playing of taps by at least two uniform members of the military, one of which is from the deceased’s branch of service.

Though many of these benefits are based on a veteran’s burial, the same benefits are available for those who are cremated. For instance, military honors can be performed at the funeral home instead of graveside. Families would still be eligible to receive a United States flag, even if it was not used to drape a coffin.

It’s also important to realize that interment is still an option even if a veteran is cremated. Interment of cremated remains is free of charge and is available in either a grave, garden or a columbarium in a National Cemetery.

Not every National Cemetery offers each of these options. You can learn more about what’s available by visiting this list of VA National Cemeteries.

To schedule an interment, you can work with a funereal director or cremation society. In most cases, you’ll need to make arrangements with a copy of DD214 discharge paperwork, which is forwarded to the cemetery director. Once eligibility is verified and a date is scheduled for interment, the remains can be delivered by hand or sent directly to the cemetery by the USPS.

It’s important to remember that plots cannot be reserved at a National Cemetery. This is a benefit available only after death, so you or your loved one cannot request a cemetery plot in advance of your death. You can work with your end-of-life planner or dictate in your last will and testament that you wish for your cremated remains to be interred at a National Cemetery.

You can find more information about veterans’ death benefits here.

Cremation for Veterans

As cremation becomes an increasingly popular option for veterans, more and more cremation societies are providing veterans’ benefits. This is done on a provider by provider basis and includes discounted fees for those who served in the military. Many societies charge only the amount equal to the death benefit provided by the VA if a vet dies in a VA hospital or contracted health care facility.

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You can find out what’s offered in your state by contacting your state’s cremation society. Find a link to the cremation society in your state by visiting The Internet Cremation Society.

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