Benefits

Veterans Burial Benefits and Honors

These days, most honorably discharged veterans are entitled to military funeral honors in recognition of their service to their country.  Honoring active and former members of the armed services is a long-standing tradition, but it is only in recent years that veterans have been given a legal right to have their status recognized at death with military funeral honors.

Military Funeral Honors

The United States Department of Defense provides military funeral honors without cost to the families of qualified veterans upon request.  Military funeral honors became an official veteran benefit when the National Defense Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-65) was enacted.

The conferees agree that men and women have unselfishly answered the call to arms at tremendous personal sacrifice.  The conferees agree that men and women, who have served honorably, whether in war or peace, deserve commemoration for their military service at the time of their death by an appropriate tribute.  Burial honors are an important means of reminding Americans of the sacrifices endured to keep the Nation free. (Strom Thurmond National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1999, conference report to accompany H.R. 3616, 105th Congress, p.667)

Before 2000, there was no statutory authority for the DOD to honor deceased veterans, but it was customary to provide the family of the deceased with a burial flag and other honors if resources were available.  Often, the burial flag was the only honor families received.

Who is Eligible for Funeral Honors?

For veterans who served on active duty in either peace time or time of war, the following eligibility criteria apply:

  • The veteran must have served on active duty with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Corps, or the Public Health Service or other civilian organization that has been granted veteran status, or
  • The veteran served on active duty with one of the armed services listed above and was disabled or died from an injury or illness caused or aggravated by that service.

Military funeral honors are also available for former members of the Selected Reserve.  The Selected Reserve is a component of the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps reserves.  It is the component of the Reserves that is most readily available for call up to active duty and is normally the first group to be mobilized when needed.  The criteria for Selected Reserve eligibility are:  

  • You must have served for at least one full enlistment period, or, in the case of officers, you must have served for your full initial obligation period, or
  • You were discharged before completion of your initial enlistment or obligation period because you suffered from a disabling injury or illness that was caused or aggravated by your service.

Military funeral honors are not available for veterans with a dishonorable discharge, a bad conduct discharge, or those who were discharged as the result of a court-martial.

A less than honorable discharge is not the only thing that can render a veteran ineligible for funeral honors.  Conviction of a state or federal capital crime will also bar a person from military funeral honors.  Timothy McVeigh is one of the reasons for the capital crime ban.  In 1997, Congress passed PL 105-116 to prevent people convicted of a federal capital crime from being interred in a VA national cemetery, Arlington National Cemetery, or state veterans’ cemeteries.  The architects of the 1997 law sought to prevent Timothy McVeigh, an Army veteran convicted of the Oklahoma City bombing, from being buried in a national cemetery or state veterans’ cemetery.  

You probably recall the event.  On the morning of April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh parked a truck loaded with diesel fuel and fertilizer in front of the federal building in Oklahoma City.  He locked the truck, retreated to a safe distance, and set off the bomb.  A massive explosion resulted that destroyed the federal building and damaged more than 300 other nearby buildings.  The explosion killed 168 people; 19 of them were children.  McVeigh was tried and convicted as a terrorist.  No one wanted to see him buried with military funeral honors.

What Do Military Funeral Honors Include?

Public Law 106-65 sets forth the minimum requirements.  There must be an honors detail consisting of at least two uniformed military personnel. One of the servicemen or women must be from the same branch of the armed forces as the deceased veteran.  The ceremony must include folding the American flag and presenting it to the next of kin.  The law also requires that Taps be played.  A bugler is preferred, but a good quality recording of Taps is also allowed.  

Generally, when a family requests military funeral honors, it is the funeral director’s job to make the arrangements.  Funeral directors normally contact DOD to make the request, but there are other avenues to obtain the services.  If the deceased is being buried or ashes interred in a national cemetery, the VA staff at the cemetery may handle arrangements.  Many veterans’ groups also help arrange for military burial honors.

Military Burial Benefits

While most veterans in good standing are entitled to military funeral honors, the same is not true of military burial benefits.   The requirements are much more stringent and are limited primarily to those receiving VA benefits.  The requirements are as follows:

  • The veteran must have been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable; and
  • The veteran died as the result of a service-connected disability; or
  • The veteran was receiving a VA pension or some type of VA compensation at the time of death; or
  • The veteran was entitled to VA compensation, but opted, instead, to receive his military pension or disability pay; or
  • The veteran died while hospitalized at the VA or at a VA contract facility; or
  • The veteran died while being transported at VA expense and with VA authorization to or from a care facility; or
  • The veteran had a pending VA claim at the time of death and would have been awarded benefits; or
  • The veteran died on or after October 9, 1996, while a patient at a VA approved nursing home.

If you are a healthy veteran, not under the care of the VA for a service related injury or illness, you can ignore all those burial benefit ads that come in the mail.  You will likely be entitled to funeral honors when you die but not a burial benefit.

Resources 

www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/claims-special-burial.asp

www.va.gov/opa/publications/factsheets/fs_military_honors.pdf

www.benefits.va.gov/benefits/factsheets/burials/burial.pdf

 

This website has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information on this website is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state-to-state or county-to-county, so that some information in this website may not be correct for your situation. Finally, the information contained on this website is not guaranteed to be up to date. Therefore, the information contained in this website cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your jurisdiction.

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