by Michael J. Neddo
The statistic is frightening, military veterans are dying at the rate of over 1,000 per day. While many veterans and their families are aware of the many benefits that the Veteran’s Administration provides on a daily basis, few know what to expect when it comes to the benefits a deceased veteran and their family is entitled to. Unlike daily benefits, death benefits are used only once and become active at a time that is emotionally very difficult. So what are the benefits a veteran and their family are entitled to and how do you ensure they are provided when needed most?
Five common benefits available to all veterans discharged under any condition other than dishonorable:
- A United States flag for funeral purposes
- A government provided marker or headstone
- a no-cost burial or inurnment in a National Cemetery
- An honor detail present at the cemetery or church for flag presentation
- A certificate attesting to military service signed by the President of the United States
The United States flag provided for the funeral service may be displayed multiple ways. The flag may be used to drape a casket or it can be folded into the three sided “cocked hat” shape and displayed on or next to a casket or urn. At 5 feet by 9.5 feet, this symbol of a grateful nation is substantial and cherished by families long after it is presented to them. While not provided by the VA, many families obtain a permanent case for that purpose after a service.
The government provided marker or headstone is provided in a variety of materials and sizes to accommodate the various cemetery options today. Though the marker is provided at no cost, any installation fees or charges outside of a National Cemetery are not covered by the VA and should be accounted for when planning to use this benefit.
Military representation at a funeral today consists of two or more active duty or reserve members who will ceremoniously play taps, fold the flag, and present it to the family. Contrary to popular belief, a gun salute performed by a firing detail is not part of VA provided honor detail but may be arranged by a funeral service professional through a local veteran affiliate such as the VFW or American Legion.
The no-cost burial or inurnment can be provided at any National Cemetery in the United States, with Arlington being the most famous. Provided the cemetery has space, a veteran is entitled to a free grave, the opening and closing of the grave, the perpetual care of the grave site, and installation of the VA provided marker or headstone. Note that National Cemeteries are operated by the government and should not be confused with private cemeteries having dedicated veteran sections.
Finally, a certificate attesting to a veteran’s service may be ordered in multiple copies so as to provide a copy to any immediate family member who wishes to have one. The certificate is signed by the current sitting President and may be ordered at any time after a veteran’s death.
To receive these five basic benefits, a Form DD-214, also known as “The Report for Separation and Discharge,” is required. This document is provided to all discharged veterans. Since this document is critical to obtaining these benefits, it is important to have a copy of it in a location accessible to others after a death has occurred.
In addition to the five basic benefits already mentioned, there may be additional monetary benefits available to cover burial and plot costs depending on other conditions specific to each veteran.
A trusted funeral professional is an important resource. Funeral directors not only help obtain these benefits when needed, but they can offer guidance and information before a death occurs. With the DD-214 being critical for obtaining benefits, funeral professionals can even help you obtain a replacement DD-214 and keep a copy securely at the funeral home. This way, when a death occurs, your funeral professional will have all they need to obtain the important benefits every veteran’s family deserves.Veterans have honored our country through the years. It is important that we return that honor and ensuring veterans know what these benefits are is one way to do that.