Most honorably discharged veterans are eligible for one or more death benefits from the Veterans Administration (VA). Burial benefits for veterans include interment at a National Cemetery and/or a burial allowance to reimburse the family member or other responsible party who pays for the veteran's final expenses. In some cases, the surviving dependents of deceased veterans may qualify for financial compensation or other benefits, such as educational assistance or health coverage.
National Cemetery Burial
Most honorably discharged veterans and all veterans who died while on active duty or during training (whether on active or inactive duty) are eligible to be buried in a National Cemetery that has space available. This is true for both casketed and cremated remains. This benefit is also available to spouses, minor children, and unmarried dependent adult children of eligible veterans. Key facts to be aware of include:
- National Cemetery burials can't be reserved or scheduled in advance.
- You cannot apply for a National Cemetery burial via the internet.
- Use this VA-provided checklist to gather the documents you will need to schedule the burial.
- Fax the veteran's official discharge documentation to 866-900-6417 or email it to NCA.Scheduling@va.gov (unless the burial is for the spouse or dependent child of a veteran who is already buried in a National Cemetery).
- After sending discharge paperwork, call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117 to make arrangements. They are open seven days per week, from 7 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. Central time.
- The scheduling office is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.
- The VA will provide the space and its perpetual care, handle opening and closing the grave, mark the gravesite (with a government headstone, marker, or medallion), and give the family a burial flag and a Presidential Memorial Certificate.
- The family will need to work with a funeral home or cremation service to coordinate the funeral or cremation. The family will be responsible for costs from these services, but may also be eligible for a burial allowance (see next section).
In some situations, the VA may pay for or reimburse some or all of the cost of transporting the remains of a deceased veteran to a National Cemetery. This applies to service-related deaths and situations in which a veteran dies while admitted to a VA hospital or a nursing home contracted by the VA, or while traveling with VA authorization to receive care.
VA Burial Allowance for Private Cemeteries
VA burial benefits are not limited to burials in a National Cemetery. When an honorably discharged veteran's surviving spouse, partner via a legal union, child, parent, or estate executor pays for their funeral and/or burial costs, they may be eligible to be reimbursed for some or all of the expenditure.
Which Veterans Are Eligible?
There are specific requirements regarding veteran eligibility for burial expense reimbursement. Veterans who meet at least one of the following requirements at their time of death may qualify.
- Receiving VA pension or compensation
- Receiving full military retirement or disability pay instead of VA pension or compensation for which they were eligible
- Dying as a result of a service-connected disability
- Dying while receiving care at a VA facility (or one contracted by the VA)
- Dying while traveling to a medical facility to receive care that the VA has authorized and is paying for
- Dying with a pending claim for VA compensation or pension, assuming they would have been entitled to benefits prior to passing away
There are a few specific exceptions. For example, VA burial benefits are not available to veterans who pass away while serving a federal prison sentence, or while holding office in the United States Congress. VA burial benefits are also not available to servicemembers who died while on active duty because different benefits apply.
Allowance for Veteran Burial Benefits
The VA allowance amount varies based on when the veteran died, whether the death was service-related or not, and if the veteran was in VA care at the time of death. For veterans whose deaths are service-related, $2,000 is the maximum total burial allowance. For non-service connected deaths, the amounts vary based on whether the person died while admitted to a VA hospital. The amounts in the table below are maximum amounts that apply to those who passed away on or after October 1, 2021.
|Non-Service Related Burial Allowance||Burial/Cremation||Plot Purchase||Marker|
|Not in VA hospital at the time of death||$300||$828||$231|
|Hospitalized in VA facility at time of death||$828||$828||$231|
Applying for VA Burial Allowance
With the exception of surviving spouses who are specified as such on the veteran's profile, qualified individuals who are paying for a veteran's final expenses must apply for benefits within two years of the time the veteran is buried or cremated. For surviving spouses, the VA will automatically send the appropriate amount after being notified of the veteran's death. Information needed to apply includes:
- Social Security number or VA file number
- Date of birth
- Place of birth
- Date of death
- Place of death
- Military status/history
- DD214 or other military service separation documents
- Death certificate
- Documentation of costs associated with transporting remains (if applicable)
Survivors' Benefits for Dependents of Deceased Veterans
In some situations, surviving dependents of veterans are eligible for other death benefits. Facts related to the veteran's death impact eligibility for survivors' benefits, as do the circumstances of the surviving dependents.
Survivors Pension Benefit
Surviving spouses and dependent children of a deceased veteran who served during wartime may be eligible for a Survivor's Pension. Eligibility is based on their net worth and income. Rates and qualification requirements are set by Congress and are adjusted annually. For 2022, qualifying dependents whose net worth and income add up to $138,489 or less qualify to receive this benefit. The amount varies based on a wide variety of factors, including family size, medical expenses, and whether the dependents receive money via other benefits programs.
VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation
In some situations, surviving spouses, parents, and dependent children of deceased veterans who passed away as a result of a service-related illness or injury may be eligible to receive tax-exempt VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). Spouses have to meet specific requirements related to the length and timing of marriage and cohabitation. Parents of the deceased veteran must meet income requirements. Minor children are eligible, as are unmarried 18 to 23 year-olds who are in school.
Health Coverage via TRICARE
Family members who are covered on a veteran's TRICARE plan at the time of the veteran's death can stay on the plan. The cost, terms, and conditions will remain the same as they were at the time the veteran died. The veteran's surviving spouse will be able to stay on TRICARE as long as they don't remarry. The veteran's children will be able to keep TRICARE until they reach the age of 21. Upon reaching 21, as long as the adult child does not get married or otherwise become independent, they can transition to a TRICARE Young Adult policy.
VA Home Loan Program
Surviving spouses of veterans who died in active duty or as a result of a service-connected disability may be eligible to qualify for the VA home loan program. This benefit is available to surviving spouses who did not remarry, as well as those who remarried after the age of 57 or prior to December 16, 2003. In some cases, surviving spouses of veterans who were totally disabled for a service-connected reason but whose death was caused by another reason may also be eligible to qualify for a VA-backed mortgage.
Chapter 35 Educational Benefits
Spouses and depending children (up to age 31) of deceased veterans who died during active duty or as a result of a service-connected disability are eligible for higher education assistance. This benefit is covered under Title 38, Chapter 35 of the United States Code (U.S.C.), which provides for Dependent Educational Assistance (DEA). Eligible individuals are entitled to educational assistance to help fund up to 45 months of full-time study (or the equivalent if they go to school part-time).
Navigating Veteran Death Benefits
There are a number of burial and death benefits available to honorably discharged veterans and their surviving dependents. Now that you are familiar with the various programs and have a good sense of which ones you may be eligible to receive, it's a good idea to reach out to the VA Office of Survivors Assistance. Their professional and compassionate team is dedicated to helping the surviving dependents of deceased veterans navigate the complexities of the VA system.