Only about one in five veterans who died last year were buried free of charge in department or state-run veteran cemeteries. Less than half of individuals eligible for some type of burial or gravesite financial assistance took advantage of the benefit, says Military Times’ recent article entitled, “VA officials work to raise awareness of cemetery, burial services.”
“I want even more veterans and family members to know about and take advantage of the final benefits a veteran earns for their service,” said Matthew Quinn, undersecretary for memorial affairs at the National Cemetery Administration.
“They have the option to choose VA for their final wishes. And we will take care of them and their loved ones in a manner that mirrors their own dedicated service and devotion to our nation, in perpetuity.”
NCA officials are trying to emphasize VA burial services as the U.S. nears the 50th anniversary of the agency assuming control of national veterans cemeteries. There are now 155 such resting places managed by VA and another 121 funded by the department. However, the use of the burial benefits lags behind other well-known VA support services.
Quinn said several factors cause the low usage rate for burial services, including “family wishes” that multiple individuals be interred in the same plot. Only spouses and certain other dependents can be buried alongside a veteran in a national cemetery.
However, other assistance — such as free headstones for veterans being interred at private cemeteries and free medallions for existing headstones to denote the deceased individual’s veteran status — are often overlooked because family members and funeral homes aren’t familiar with the benefits.
VA provided about 350,000 headstones for veterans’ graves last year, and another 12,000 medallions.
Quinn said while vets don’t have to use the services, those interested should consider applying before any of the services are needed to ensure they have the options ready.
“Applying for eligibility prior to the veteran’s death ensures that necessary service records are in order, so grieving family members do not have to search for military discharge papers while they are already under great stress,” he said.
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Reference: Military Times (Jan. 24, 2023) “VA officials work to raise awareness of cemetery, burial services”