Burial and Memorial Benefits for Family Members of Veterans

Family members of deceased or disabled veterans may have access to certain funeral benefits to help pay for the burial and memorial.

By , J.D. · The Colleges of Law

Losing a loved one who served in the military, whether during active duty or as a veteran, is an incredibly challenging time. In addition to coping with your grief, the logistics of funeral planning can be complicated. You might have questions concerning burial options, who pays for veterans' funerals, and whether there are any VA funeral and memorial benefits available to help ease financial expenses.

Are All Veterans Entitled to Burial Benefits?

Not all veterans are entitled to all burial benefits. National cemetery funerals, "death benefits," and burial allowances are generally available based on the veterans' status on discharge (if they didn't die while on active duty). Benefits may also be restricted to certain family members.

Burials in a National Cemetery

The VA has 155 national cemeteries in 42 states and Puerto Rico. You can check the map of national cemeteries to see if there is one near you. If the veteran is eligible to be buried in a national cemetery, then you can probably arrange for their burial in one near your home, as long as space is available.

Relatives of deceased veterans often ask if the veterans' funeral is paid for by the VA. While families of veterans aren't charged for the cost of a gravesite or the opening or closing of the grave at a national cemetery, they're still responsible for organizing and paying for funeral or cremation services through a funeral home or crematorium.

Who Is Eligible for Burial in a National Cemetery?

If your loved one died while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty for training, they are automatically eligible to be buried in a national cemetery. Members of the Reserve, including those who died while on Reserve training, can be eligible for burial in a national cemetery in certain circumstances.

Veterans who have received "bad paper"—an "other than honorable," "bad conduct," or "dishonorable discharge"—might not be eligible to be buried in a national cemetery. Even otherwise eligible veterans may be disqualified if the veteran was convicted of a crime punishable by life in prison or the death penalty—for example, veterans who weren't available for prosecution but were shown by clear and convincing evidence to have committed a crime. People who dodged a draft or were convicted of a subversive activity are also disqualified from VA memorial benefits such as burial in a national cemetery.

Burials in a State Veterans Cemetery

If there isn't a national cemetery near you, you can also consider burying your loved one in a state veterans cemetery. Eligibility requirements for interment in most state veterans cemeteries are the same or similar to the requirements for national cemeteries, but some states also require that you be a resident of that state.

Military Death Gratuity for Families of Service Members and Veterans

A $100,000 one-time lump-sum payment is available to certain survivors of military service members who died while on active duty in the Armed Forces or—in some cases—while serving on reserve forces. This tax-free active duty military death benefit helps meet the needs of a deceased service member's family during the time period before veterans survivor benefits become available (if family members are eligible).

Military Families Who Are Eligible for the $100,000 Death Benefit

The families of all service members who died on active duty, active duty for training, inactive duty for training, or within 120 days of release from active duty are eligible for this military death benefit. Reservists' families can receive the benefit if the reservist dies while on inactive duty, inactive duty training, or while traveling to or from active duty (except for training at Armed Forces sponsored schools or correspondence courses). This includes reservists who are performing annual training duty under orders for a period of more than 13 days or while performing authorized travel to or from that duty.

Applicants for membership in the reserve officers' training corps are eligible if they die while attending, traveling to, or from field training or during a practice cruise.

The death gratuity military benefit is also available to survivors when a service member dies within four months of release from active duty or active duty for training, if the VA finds that the death was caused by an illness or injury that occurred while on active duty (or got worse because of active duty).

Survivors Who Are Eligible to Receive the Gratuity

Since 2008, service members have the authority to decide in advance who will receive the $100,000 gratuity in case of their death by making a designation. The gratuity can be allocated to more than one person, designated in 10% increments up to 100%, according to the veterans' wishes.

If a service member hasn't made a designation—or there is an unassigned percentage remaining to be distributed—the death gratuity will be paid first to a surviving spouse, then to children of the service member in equal shares, then to the deceased service member's grandchildren (also in equal shares). Both biological and adopted children of the veteran are eligible for the death benefit, as are stepchildren who were part of the veterans's household at time of death.

If the service member doesn't have children or a surviving spouse, the payment will go to first to their parents in equal shares, and then to the survivors of the veteran's parents. For cases where there are no surviving family members, the death benefits will be paid to the executor of the veteran's estate or any other relative who can legally receive the gratuity. Anybody who is entitled to the gratuity who dies before the payment is made will have their remaining portion of the gratuity pass to the next eligible person.

How to Designate Eligible Survivors and Apply for a Death Gratuity

Active service members can select which survivors they would like to receive the death benefit by completing DD-Form 93, Record of Emergency Data. Designees—those who are eligible to receive the benefit—can apply for the death gratuity using DD Form 397, Claim Certification and Voucher for Death Gratuity Payment. Submit it to the Casualty Assistance Representative who has been assigned to assist you or to the Service Casualty Office if you don't have a representative. The Department of Defense endeavors to make these payments as quickly as possible.

Who Pays for Veterans' Private Funerals?

Burial allowances are reimbursements made from the VA for costs associated with private burials or memorials. urial allowances are usually available for disabled veterans and those receiving VA medical care.

Eligibility for the Burial Allowance

You can request a burial allowance only when you paid for the funeral, no one else has reimbursed you, and the veteran wasn't dishonorably discharged. Additionally, the disabled veteran must have died under one of the following circumstances:

  • the cause of death was a service-connected disability
  • the veteran was entitled to disability compensation or pension at the time of death, including pending claims that were later approved or compensation that was waived in favor of retirement or severance pay, or
  • the veteran died at or on the way to a VA healthcare facility, such as a hospital, nursing home, or non-VA medical provider under contact with the VA.

How Much Does the Burial Allowance Pay?

The amount of the burial allowance depends on several factors. If the veteran died due to a service-connected disability, the burial benefits can be up to $2,000. Veterans who died from medical conditions unrelated to their military service have more limited reimbursements available. For example, for a veteran who died on or after October 1, 2023, the VA will pay a $948 burial allowance and $948 for a plot.

Transportation costs that you incur while transporting the veteran to a national cemetery may also be partially eligible for reimbursement. In addition, the costs of transporting the deceased veteran may be reimbursed if the veteran dies while in a VA hospital or nursing home.

How to Apply for a Burial Allowance

You can claim a burial allowance for up to two years after the funeral, after which you lose your right to the benefit. You can apply for military burial benefits by completing VA Form 21P-530EZ, Application for Burial Benefits. You'll need to provide copies of the veteran's death certificate and discharge documents, as well as copies of the funeral bills and receipts. You can then send your completed application to the VA Regional Office closest to you.

Additional Memorial, Funeral, and Burial Benefits for Veterans

Some other burial benefits offered by the VA include headstones or other markers, burial flags, military funeral honors, and Presidential Memorial Certificates. For more information visit the VA's National Cemetery Administration web page on burial benefits.

Bereavement Counseling

If your loved one died while on active duty, you may be eligible to receive bereavement counseling through the VA medical centers. Free counseling is available for spouses, children, and parents of deceased military service members at 300 Vet Centers across the country.

Bereavement counseling is coordinated through the Readjustment Counseling Service. To arrange for counseling, call 877-927-8387 to speak to someone 24/7. They can help you locate the nearest VA Center that offers counseling. You can also have a counselor come to your home, if that works better for you.

Updated March 18, 2024

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