Monday, December 1, 2014

VA Burial Benefits

Quite often, I serve a family who has lost a veteran and sincerely believes they are entitled to some wonderful (non-existing) burial funds from the US government. While it is true, the government has funds set aside for Veteran’s death benefits, it has been my experience that almost no one ever qualifies for them.
Presently, I have a veteran in my embalming room who will be buried this weekend. Unfortunately, he did not prepare financially for his death. He, like his family, believed that he qualified for plenty of money to cover his final expenses through his military service. In reality, if his family ever sees a cent from the government, I will be very pleasantly surprised.
It has long been my opinion that the government intentionally writes information to confuse the average American citizen. For this reason, I will attempt to explain the necessary qualifications your veteran MUST meet for governmental funding to cover his or her final expenses and the benefits for which he or she MIGHT qualify.
While reading this article, please note that the government "MIGHT" (which means maybe or maybe not) pay benefits for your veteran, while your veteran "MUST" (which means shall or is obliged to) meet the requirements as set forth through the VA. Before we begin, however, I want to tell you exactly what I tell my mother almost daily.
“The government does not establish requirements to qualify you for aid; they establish restrictions in order to disqualify you. If the government, an attorney or an insurance company is asking you a question, understand that they are trying to find information to disqualify you from any funds for which you are asking, or in which you stand in need.”
So, what are these burial benefits, and how is a veteran not disqualified from them?
REQUIREMENT aka. Restriction
Every veteran that has been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable MIGHT be eligible for VA memorial benefits.
If you were dishonorably discharged, you are disqualified from VA memorial benefits.
If you were not dishonorably discharged, the VA MIGHT have other ways to disqualify you.
Interment benefits MIGHT include burial or inurnment in a national cemetery. If so, the burial plot, headstone, grave-liner, opening and closing and perpetual care would likewise be included. Please understand that these elements are only provided at a national cemetery.
If your veteran is interred at any other cemetery and meets the discharge requirement listed above, the VA MIGHT provide a governmental regulated headstone. Please recognize that although they MIGHT provide a headstone; they will not set the stone. You will still incur fees for the setting of the stone. You must also have someone willing to accept delivery of the stone. These stones are heavy and are generally delivered by a large semi truck. Once the stone has been accepted, one must also transport it to the cemetery at the appropriate time. Some stone setters will come by the delivery location and retrieve the stone. Be sure to ask your stone setter for this service but be prepared to pay for it. If you locate a stone setter prior to ordering the stone, you might ask if it can be delivered to the stone setter's place of work. That would be convenient for you.
Interestingly enough, the VA does not provide FINAL honors at a veteran’s funeral. Military honors are provided through the Department of Defense. Public Law 106-65 provides that every eligible veteran receive “final honors.” Please note that a veteran must qualify for these honors under the above-mentioned requirement. Final honors include the folding and presentation of a burial flag and the rendering of Taps. Although many expect it, 21 gun salutes are not included in the description of "final honors." In addition, ample time allowances are required when requesting this ceremony. Be prepared to hold your services in accordance with the honor guards schedule rather than your own.
Please note that interment benefits only apply to things that happen at the cemetery. They do not cover preparation of the veteran for burial or transportation of the veteran to the cemetery. These expenses are referred to as funeral expenses.
A veteran’s family pays for all funeral expenses. If they are lucky, they MIGHT be reimbursed for a portion of them. These expenses include, but are not limited to, removal of remains, preparation of the body (embalming, casketing, dressing, disinfecting or cremating of remains), funeral arrangements (visitation, viewing, memorial, funeral or other ceremonies), funeral and burial merchandise (caskets, vaults, register books, funeral folders, acknowledgement cards, flowers, etc.) and privately, municipality or state owned cemetery property.
Service Related Death
BENEFIT: $2,000 toward burial expenses for deaths occurring on or after September 11, 2001.

  • MUST have been discharged under condition other than dishonorable.
  • MUST have been involved in a military action at the moment of death.
  • MUST apply for the funds within two years of final disposition.
  • Non-Service Related Death
    BENEFIT: Up to $722 toward funeral expenses and $722 interment allowance for deaths occurring on or after October 1, 2012.

  • MUST have been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.
  • MUST apply for funds within two years of final disposition.

  • Oh, remember those other ways you MIGHT be disqualified mentioned under “PLAIN ENGLISH"?
    You are disqualified for these benefits if:

  • Your veteran was dishonorably discharged.
  • You fail to apply within two years of final disposition using VA Form 21-530.
  • You have received funds from another source, i.e. decedent’s employer or a state agency.
  • In addition to the aforementioned disqualifiers, your veteran MUST meet at least one of the following conditions to dodge disqualification from death benefits.

  • Your veteran MUST have died due to a service-related disability (OR)
  • Your veteran MUST have been receiving a VA pension or VA compensation at the time of death (OR)
  • Your veteran MUST have been entitled to receive a VA pension or VA compensation, but decided not to reduce his or her military retirement or disability pay (OR)
  • Your veteran MUST have died in a VA hospital, or while receiving care under VA contract at a non-VA facility (OR)
  • Your veteran MUST have died while traveling under proper authorization and at VA expense to or from a specified place for the purpose of examination, treatment or care (OR)
  • Your veteran MUST have an original or reopened claim pending at time of death and would have been entitled to VA compensation or pension from a date prior to the date of death (OR)
  • Your veteran MUST have died on or after October 9, 1996, while a patient at a VA approved state nursing home.
  • Your application packet MUST include the following:

  • VA Form 21-530, Application for Burial Benefits
  • Proof of military service (DD 214)
  • Death Certificate
  • Copy of funeral bill
  • Copy of burial bill
  • The information for this article was obtained from experience as a military wife and funeral director, and VFW magazine. I hope this helps you understand how and who qualifies for VA burial benefits.
    My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a funeral director, author and freelance writer. I write books, weekly articles and brief tips on understanding and coping with grief. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.
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