Dear Savvy Senior,
Does the Veterans Administration provide any special funeral services or benefits to old veterans? My father is a 90-year-old World War II veteran with late stage Alzheimer's, so I'm looking into funeral options and would like to know what the VA may provide.
Yes, the Veterans Administration offers a number of burial and memorial benefits to veterans if their discharge from the military was under conditions other than dishonorable -- which will need to be verified. To do this, you'll need a copy of your dad's DD Form 214 "Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty," which you can request online at archives.gov/veterans.
Here's a rundown of some of the different benefits that are available to veterans that die a non-service related death.
National and State Cemetery Benefits
If your dad is eligible, and wants to be buried in one of the 131 national or 93 state VA cemeteries the VA benefits provided at no cost to the family include a gravesite; opening and closing of the grave; perpetual gravesite care; a government headstone or marker; a United States burial flag that can be used to drape the casket or accompany the urn (after the funeral service, the flag is given to the next-of-kin as a keepsake); and a Presidential memorial certificate, which is an engraved paper certificate signed by the current President expressing the country's grateful recognition of the veteran's service.
National cemetery burial benefits are also available to spouses and dependents of veterans.
If your dad is cremated, his remains will be buried or inurned in the same manner as casketed remains.
Funeral or cremation arrangements and costs are not, however, taken care of by the VA. They are the responsibility of the veteran's family.
Private Cemetery Benefits
If your dad is going to be buried in a private cemetery, the benefits available include a free government headstone or marker, or a medallion that can be affixed to an existing privately purchased headstone or marker; a burial flag; and a Presidential memorial certificate.
Funeral or cremation arrangements and costs are again the responsibility of the family, and there are no benefits offered to spouses and dependents that are buried in private cemeteries.
Military Funeral Honors
Another popular benefit available to all eligible veterans buried in either a national or private cemetery is a military funeral honors ceremony. This includes folding and presenting the U.S. burial flag to the veteran's survivors and the playing of Taps, performed by two or more uniformed military members.
The funeral provider you choose will be able to assist you with all VA burial requests. Depending on what you want, certain forms may need to be completed which are always better to be done in advance. For a complete rundown of burial and memorial benefits, eligibility details and required forms, visit www.cem.va.gov or call 800-827-1000.
In addition to the many burial benefits, some veterans may also qualify for a $734 burial and funeral expense allowance (if hospitalized by VA at time of death), or $300 (if not hospitalized by VA at time of death), and a $734 plot-interment allowance to those who choose to be buried in a private cemetery. To find out if your dad is eligible, see benefits.va.gov/benefits/factsheets/burials/burial.pdf.
To apply for burial allowances, you'll need to fill out VA Form 21-530 "Application for Burial Benefits." You need to attach a copy of your dad's discharge document (DD 214 or equivalent), death certificate, funeral and burial bills. They should show that you have paid them in full.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.