There seems to be a lot of confusion about what burial benefits veterans and their families can actually expect to receive at the time of death. Some assume that the entire funeral for a veteran is paid for by the VA; others assume that all cemetery costs are covered. In fact, neither assumption is correct.

As funeral service providers, we at Carlson Funeral Homes run across a lot of misconceptions about what kind of burial benefits veterans receive, and what they don’t receive. There are also a lot of misconceptions about what the spouse and dependents receive.

We would like to bring some clarity to this issue. While the government does offer some nice benefits that are helpful to families at the time of death, it does not cover all funeral costs by a long shot.

So, here’s what you need to know about veterans’ burial benefits:

1. Discharge papers are important. The number one thing you need to know about veterans’ benefits is that your family won’t receive any benefits whatsoever if they cannot locate your discharge papers.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs urges veterans to advise their families of their burial wishes and where to find their discharge papers. The VA states on their website: “These papers are very important in establishing your eligibility. You may wish to make pre-need arrangements with a funeral home.” That is because a funeral plan will help you get organized and put all your important documents in one place so that your family can actually claim the benefits that they are entitled to.

2. Burial allowance depends on how the veteran died. As it should be, the largest burial benefit is given to members of the military who die as a result of service to their country. A burial allowance of “up to” $2,000 is given for a service-related death on or after September 11, 2001. Some or all of transportation costs “may be” reimbursed if the veteran is buried in a VA national cemetery.

As you can probably guess, there are certain qualifications that must be met in order to receive this benefit. The VA’s website states that the VA is not responsible for making funeral arrangements or performing cremations. These arrangements should be made with a funeral or cremation provider. Furthermore, any items or services purchased from a funeral home or cremation facility are at the family’s expense. The average funeral runs over $6,000 or $7,000 depending on the merchandise and services selected. So, even if the entire $2,000 sum is given to the family as a burial allowance, the cost of the entire funeral will not be covered by the VA, even when the deceased has died in action.

For most veterans, the death will be nonservice-related. In this case, the VA will still offer a benefit to certain qualifying individuals: “up to” $300 will go toward burial and funeral expenses and $300 toward plot-interment. If the veteran happened to be in a VA hospital or at a VA nursing home at the time of death, a portion or all of the transportation costs could be reimbursed. Of course, certain specific requirements must be met in order to receive this benefit. It is not automatically given to every veteran.

3. Burial benefits depend on where the veteran will be buried. An honorably discharged veteran is eligible to be buried in one of 131 national cemeteries (as space allows) at no cost to the family. A headstone or marker is also provided by the government, as well as a U.S. flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and military honors. Spouses and dependents may also be buried in a national cemetery along with the veteran or even before if they predecease the veteran. In our area the closest national cemetery is Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery 10175 Rawiga Rd. Rittman, OH 44270.

If a private cemetery is used, burial benefits remain the same, other than the burial space: the headstone or marker, a U.S. flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and military honors are provided at no cost to the family. The burial space in a private cemetery is at the family’s expense. Certain costs may also apply to setting the headstone or marker in place. No benefits are available to spouses or dependents buried in a private cemetery.

Please note that eligibility for benefits must be established on an individual basis and certain requirements or qualifications may apply.

A lot of veterans and their families don’t realize that they will be responsible for funeral costs not covered. That includes the casket or urn, services of the funeral director, embalming, cremation, flowers, obituaries, police escort, and more. The VA makes it clear that these and other costs associated with the funeral home and/or crematory are not covered by the government.

While veterans’ benefits can be a complicated issue especially during a time of grief, we are always available to answer questions or help families make pre-arranged funeral plans. In fact, any community member may come into the funeral home to receive a free planning guide that helps organize all personal information. We will also help fill out the planning guide at the funeral home or in the comfort of your own home if you desire.