With Honor and Respect: Veteran Death Benefits

Veteran Benefits

By Peter Gaytan

You’ve served your country honorably. Where will you be buried, with what military honors, and who will cover your funeral expenses? This month we’ll cover what you and your family need to know at a difficult time. The death benefits for a veteran include: burial in a national cemetery; a grave marker; a flag; a funeral honor guard; and a Presidential Memorial Certificate for your survivors. There are also death benefits available for the spouse of a veteran.

Advance Planning = Peace of Mind

Too often families don’t want to talk about funeral and burial wishes. But making clear your preferences in advance relieves some of the pressure that your survivors will face at a difficult time.

While you can’t reserve a burial spot in advance in a national cemetery, you can make clear in writing, exactly what you hope your survivors will do with your remains.

»    Do you want a funeral or graveside services?

»    Do you want to be buried or would you prefer to be cremated? Where do you want to be buried?

»    Do you want a funeral honor guard?

Keep your preferences and the necessary papers in a safe place and be sure to tell your survivors where they can find them. In the midst of their grief, they shouldn’t have to struggle with paperwork.

If you choose to be buried in a private cemetery or in a State Veterans’ Cemetery, you may still choose a Government headstone or marker. Complete Form 40-1330, the application for a government marker, and place it with copies of your discharge papers so your family has all the necessary information in one place.

Federal and State Agencies That Administer Cemetery System

The VA National Cemetery Administration oversees the operations of 131 national cemeteries in 39 states (and Puerto Rico), as well as 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites. The Army administers two (Arlington and Soldier’s Home), and the Department of Interior maintains 14 national cemeteries. Since 1873, all honorably discharged veterans are eligible for burial in a national cemetery Currently 64 VA cemeteries (in 34 states) are able to provide the full range of service to America’s veterans and their families. An additional 21 cemeteries provide burial for family members of veterans already interred there.

All states, except Alabama, Alaska, Florida, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and West Virginia, have state veteran cemeteries (the one in Oklahoma is now closed). Eligibility for burial in a state veterans cemetery is similar to the requirements for burial in a national cemetery, but there may also be pre-death residency requirements as well.

Who Is Eligible To Be Buried In A National Cemetery?

This benefit applies to many groups of individuals. As usual, there are Federal regulations that spell out the qualifications for each eligibility group. But in general, all veterans, except those with a dishonorable discharge, are entitled to burial in a national cemetery, a grave marker, and a flag. But depending on the circumstances of a veteran’s death, he may also be entitled to other benefits.

Here are the groups that are eligible for burial in a national cemetery, with marker and flag:

(1) Members of the Armed Forces (that includes Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard):

»    Any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who dies on active duty.

»    Any veteran who was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. As an enlisted person, for service beginning after September 7, 1980, you must have served for a minimum of 24 continuous months or the full period for which you were called to active duty. As an officer, for service beginning after October 16, 1981, the same requirements as above.

»   Any citizen of the United States who served in a war in which the U.S. has or may be engaged, and served in the Armed Forces of any Government allied with the U.S. during that war, and whose last active service was terminated honorably by death or otherwise, and who was a citizen of the United States at the time of entry into such service and at the time of death.

(2) Members of the Reserves

Given the number of Reserve units currently being called up, it’s important that these servicemembers understand their eligibility. 

»    Reservists and National Guard members who, at the time of death, were entitled to retired pay under Chapter 1223, title 10, United States Code, or would have been entitled, except that they weren’t under the age of 60. Any honorably discharged veteran of the Guard or Reserve who has performed at least 20 years of qualifying service. A qualifying year is one in which you have accrued at least 50 “points” toward retirement.

Members of the Reserves, and members of the Army National Guard or the Air National Guard, who die

»    while hospitalized or undergoing treatment at government expense for injury or disease contracted or incurred while on active duty for training or inactive duty training, or undergoing such hospitalization or treatment.

»   Members of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) of the Army, Navy, or Air Force who die under honorable conditions while attending an authorized training camp or an authorized cruise, while performing authorized travel to or from that camp or cruise, or while hospitalized or undergoing treatment at government expense for injury or disease contracted or incurred under honorable conditions while engaged in one of those activities.

»    Members of Reserve components who, during a period of active duty for training, were disabled or died from a disease or injury incurred or aggravated in the line of duty or, during a period of inactive duty training, were disabled or died from an injury or certain cardiovascular disorders incurred or aggravated in the line of duty.

(3) Commissioned Officers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), formerly called the Coast and Geodetic Survey and the Environmental Science Services Administration, with full-time duty on or after July 29, 1945. While many of these veterans have died, many family members wish to add veterans headstones or markers after the death of the former servicemember.

»    If the individual served before July 29, 1945, he had to be assigned to an area of immediate military hazard as determined by the Secretary of Defense while in time of war, or in a national emergency (as declared by the President) OR served in the Philippine Islands on December 7, 1941, and continuously in such islands thereafter.

(4) Public Health Service

»    A Commissioned Officer of the Regular or Reserve Corps of the Public Health Service who served on full-time duty on or after July 29, 1945, and who was disabled or died from a disease or injury incurred or aggravated in the line of duty.

»   If service was prior to July 29, 1945, this benefit applies to a Commissioned Officer of the Regular or Reserve Corps of the Public Health Service in time of war, on detail for duty with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard; or while the Service was part of the military forces of the United States pursuant to Executive Order of the President.

»    A Commissioned Officer serving on inactive duty training whose death resulted from an injury incurred or aggravated in the line of duty.

(5) World War II Merchant Mariners

Merchant Mariners with oceangoing service during the period of armed conflict December 7, 1941 to December 31, 1946 are eligible, as are U.S. Merchant Mariners who served on blockships in support of Operation Mulberry during World War II.

(6) The Philippine Armed Forces

Certain Philippine veterans of World War II are eligible for these benefits. It requires that the Philippine veteran was a citizen of the United States or an alien legally admitted for permanent residence, who resided in the U.S. at the time of their death AND

»   Served before July 1, 1946 in the organized military forces of the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines, while those forces were in the service of the U.S. armed forces (this includes organized guerilla forces under commanders appointed, designated, or subsequently recognized by Commander in Chief, Southwest Pacific Area, or other competent authority in the U.S Army, and who died on or after November 1, 2000. OR

»   Enlisted between October 6, 1945, and June 30, 1947, with the Armed Forces of the United States with the consent of the Philippine government, and who died on or after December 16, 2003.

(7) Spouses and Dependents

Spouses and dependents of eligible veterans may be buried in a national cemetery. This group includes:

»   Surviving spouses even if the eligible veteran is not buried or memorialized in a national cemetery.

»   Surviving spouses who subsequently remarried a non-veteran. The spouse’s status is based on marriage to the deceased eligible vet.

»   Children of an eligible veteran may be buried in a national cemetery if they meet one of these criteria: A minor child which is defined as one who is unmarried and under the age of 21 years of age or under the age of 23 if a full-time student at an approved educational institution OR an adult child of any age who became permanently physically or mentally disabled and incapable of self-support before reaching the age of 21 or 23 if a full-time student at an approved educational institution (supporting documentation of disability must be provided).

Peter S. Gaytan is the author of For Service to Your Country, The Insider’s Guide to Veterans’ Benefits (Citadel, 2008), available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers. He has served as an advocate in securing and protecting the earned benefits of America’s veterans for more than a decade. Gaytan is the Executive Director of the American Legion, the largest veterans service organization in America.

*Material released with permission of the authors.

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