Military veterans comprise roughly 7% of the US adult population, and are entitled to a number of death-related benefits, some of which relate to the actual burial service itself, so it's a good idea to look into these immediately upon a decedent's death.
If the decedent was a veteran receiving retirement pay, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service should be notified of the death as soon as possible. There are likely funeral and burial benefits available, and any ongoing retirement pay officially ends on the date of death, so payments made past that date will likely have to be returned. The executor (or anyone) can make this notification online or by calling 1-800-321-1080.
If the veteran was receiving disability compensation or a disability pension, call the Veterans Benefits Administration at 1-800-827-1000.
Regardless of pension status, you may also want to reach out to the VA Office of Survivor's Assistance to learn about possible benefits and get various processes underway.
Proof of Military Service
Veterans include people who have honorably served in the US Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Space Force, Coast Guard, and National Guard.
To obtain veteran benefits, you will likely need proof of the veteran's service, usually via a copy of the veteran's DD Form 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty), or for National Guard members, their NGB-22 (Report of Separation and Military Service).
If you cannot find a copy of the veteran's DD Form 214, you can order a copy from the National Personnel Records Center using a Standard Form 180 (Request Pertaining to Military Records). Fax the form to 314-801-9195 or mail it to: National Personnel Records Center, 1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, Missouri 63138.
If you need an NGB-22, contact the state headquarters of the veterans final service branch (see National Guard state web site list).
Burial in a National VA Cemetery
Most veterans (as long as they did not receive a dishonorable discharge) are eligible for burial in a national VA cemetery, which includes the following benefits:
- A gravesite in a national cemetery that has available space
- Opening and closing of the grave
- A burial liner provided by the government
- A headstone or marker provided by the government
- Perpetual (ongoing) care of the gravesite
The VA provides detailed instructions for scheduling a burial, or you can call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 1-800-535-1117. Many executors simply have the funeral director handle these things (even if the decedent will be buried in a national VA cemetery, a funeral director still provides numerous helpful services).
Regardless of whether the veteran will be interred in a national VA cemetery, the estate is also likely eligible for a burial allowance, which can help cover burial and funeral costs, including transportation of the decedent's remains. This allowance generally ranges from $300 - $2000 for most veterans, depending on specific circumstances. You will need to provide proof of expenses you wish to cover, and the cost of funeral director services, including cremation, cannot be covered by this allowance. You can apply online for a burial allowance, or apply by mail, and you have a two-year time limit from the decedent's death to do so, if the death was not service-connected.
Veterans are also entitled to a burial flag and a Presidential memorial certificate. As you will find by clicking the preceding links, each item has certain eligibility requirements (primarily that the decedent did not receive a dishonorable discharge), and you can apply for each item by mail, fax, or in person at a regional VA office. If the veteran will not be buried in a national VA cemetery, you may still wish to obtain the government-supplied headstone (or grave marker or medallion). If you will be using a private funeral director, he or she can help you obtain any of these items, and that's usually the easiest approach.
Military Honors Ceremony
Veterans are also usually eligible to receive a military funeral honors ceremony, which includes folding and presenting the United States burial flag and the playing of Taps. Two or more uniformed military persons will attend the ceremony, with at least one being a member of the Veteran's parent service of the armed forces. You can ask your funeral director to arrange for this ceremony, or you can ask the VA directly if the decedent will be interred in a national VA cemetery.
Return of Medical Equipment
If the veteran was using any VA doctor-prescribed equipment on loan, such as a wheelchair or medical bed, the executor should arrange for Prosthetics Department of the nearest VA hospital to pick it up so the estate will not be charged for it.