As you can imagine, military benefits are complicated to decipher because there are a lot of stipulations for each benefit. While we can’t speak to every unique situation, we can give you some general guidelines on whether a veteran’s spouse is eligible to get burial benefits.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What Burial Benefits Do Veterans’ Spouses Receive?
- How Do Burial Benefits for Spouses Work?
- How to Claim Burial Benefits for a Veterans’ Spouse
We have studied the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website to find the answer to this question and other similar queries about spousal burial benefits.
What Burial Benefits Do Veterans’ Spouses Receive?
While we would like to give you a straightforward answer to this question, it is a rather complicated matter. Questions arise, such as:
- “Will the burial be in a military cemetery or public cemetery?”
- “What if the veteran is still alive when the non-military spouse dies?”
- “Will the government pay for the burial of the spouse of a veteran who died in combat?”
Generally speaking, a veteran’s spouse and minor dependents are allowed to be buried next to the veteran when they die, even if they predeceased the veteran. The government will pay for the burial, perpetual care, and an inscribed headstone. However, these benefits can only be claimed if the veteran’s spouse is buried in a national cemetery.
Generally, the spouse of an eligible veteran is able to be interred in a national cemetery even if that veteran is not buried or memorialized in a national cemetery. A spouse who remarries a non-veteran may claim burial rights from the prior marriage, as long as the death occurred on or after 1 January 2000. In addition, the spouse of a military member whose remains are unavailable for burial is also eligible for burial in a national cemetery.
This benefit is also available to minor dependents of the veteran as well as adult children of veterans who are unmarried, disabled, and dependent.
On a side note, cremated remains are buried or inurned in national cemeteries in the same manner as casketed remains.
However, benefits differ if the family decides to bury the deceased in a public cemetery. For example, suppose the veteran is buried in a non-military cemetery. In that case, they might be eligible to receive a government headstone or marker, a burial flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate at no cost to the family. Additionally, when a veteran dies, the family may be eligible to receive burial allowances to help pay for the interment.
However, there are no benefits available when spouses and dependents of a veteran are buried in a public (non-military) cemetery.
How Do Burial Benefits for Spouses Work?
The National Cemetery Administration (NCA) determines which veterans (and family members) are eligible for burial in one of the 136 national cemeteries in the country.
The organization looks at each unique situation to determine eligibility.
It’s worth noting that no burial benefits are given for the following situations:
- Veterans who received a dishonorable discharge
- Divorced spouses
- Most adult children of veterans
- Parents, siblings, and other relatives of a veteran, even if they are dependents
- Anyone convicted of subversive activities or capital crimes
How to Claim Burial Benefits for a Veterans’ Spouse
While gravesites in national cemeteries cannot be reserved in advance, you can see if the veteran (or the veteran’s spouse) is eligible for burial prior to death. For this reason, families are encouraged to have a frank discussion with their loved ones regarding their preferences. Additionally, they should consider preparing by discussing cemetery options, collecting the veteran’s military discharge papers, and contacting the cemetery where burial is desired.
When the spouse of the veteran dies, and you have already determined that the individual is eligible to be buried in a national cemetery, then the survivors (or the funeral director) can call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117 at the time of death to request burial.
In some cases, the eligibility may be reviewed again at the time of death if the laws and circumstances have changed since the family was awarded the pre-need letter. Once final approval is given, the national cemetery staff will cover all the details.
If you did not fill out the pre-eligibility paperwork before the death, you will need to complete some additional steps before the burial in the national cemetery can be scheduled. This process can be done by the survivors or the funeral home staff.
Here are the steps you need to take to schedule a burial in a national cemetery for the spouse of a military veteran.
1. Gather the documents and information you’ll need to identify the deceased before you call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office
Such documents include:
DD214 or other discharge documents of the Veteran or service member
In this case, you’ll submit the DD214 of the spouse of the deceased. If you can’t find the discharge documents, it may take several days for the staff to check eligibility. Please note that the veteran’s discharge form cannot be labeled a “dishonorable discharge.”
Also, discharge documents may not be necessary if the veteran is already deceased and interred in a national cemetery.
Documents that verify the relationship to the veteran
These may include a death certificate, letters from your doctor, marriage license, a statement from the Social Security Administration, or other documents to support your claim.
The funeral home director or family of the deceased can submit the documents by fax (866-900-6417) or email (NCA.Scheduling@va.gov). Use the deceased’s name in the subject line.
Once the documents have been submitted, call 800-535-1117 to confirm the burial application and provide the following information.
Such information may include:
- Full name of the deceased
- Gender of the deceased
- Social Security number or Military Service number (Veteran ID)
- Date of birth
- Relationship to the service member or veteran whose military service will be used to decide the eligibility
- Marital status
- Date of death (and zip code and county at the time of death)
- Name of the next of kin
- The next of kin’s relationship to the deceased
- The next of kin’s Social Security number
- The next of kin’s phone number
- The next of kin’s address
You may also need to provide the following information about the deceased:
- If the person was married at the time of death, you’ll also need the surviving spouse’s status as a veteran or service member.
- If the person has any children with disabilities, you’ll need the status and detailed information for any disabled children who may be buried in a national cemetery in the future.
- If the person’s spouse passed away previously and was buried in a national cemetery, you’ll need the full name of the spouse as well as the cemetery section and site number where they’re buried.
2. Record your preferences
Once you have submitted the required documentation and information about the deceased, their next of kin, and their military spouse, you’ll need to select the preferred location of burial. There are national cemeteries all over the country.
You’ll also need to record the method of disposition of the deceased and submit the size of the casket or cremation urn. From there, you’ll determine the type of gravesite memorial needed, such as a headstone, grave marker, niche cover, or medallion. Survivors can also select any religious emblems or optional inscriptions that they would prefer on the marker.
3. Contact the National Cemetery Scheduling Office
Once the burial eligibility has been determined, the deceased’s family or the funeral director should contact the National Cemetery Scheduling Office. The funeral director can help you with these steps too.
This office is open every day from 8:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. E.T. The office is closed on the three major holidays.
It’s worth noting that burials at national cemeteries take place on weekdays. The National Cemetery Scheduling Office can tell you the available burial times for each cemetery.
Once the burial is scheduled, you might seek out personnel at the specific cemetery where the burial will occur to ask for information specific to the cemetery.
Preparation Is Key
We can all be confident that we will die one day. However, some ignore this fact and leave the difficult decisions (and expenses) to their family members.
If you are a veteran, and you and your spouse wish to be buried in a national cemetery, at minimum, leave your military documentation behind in an easy-to-find place to make planning easier for your next of kin.
If you find yourself in the difficult situation of planning the funeral services for a person who didn’t leave a plan behind, consider using the resources available through Cake. Of course, if the deceased was a military veteran or spouse, you can use the information found in this article to find your loved one a permanent resting place at a military cemetery.
However, if you would rather bury your loved one in a public cemetery, here is a list of charities and nonprofits that may help you pay for your loved one’s funeral expenses.
- “Schedule a Burial for a Veteran or Family Member.” U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Va.gov. Accessed 9 February 2022.
- “Veteran Burial Benefits and Eligibility.” Lifeline for Vets. Nvf.org. Accessed 9 February 2022.
- “Veterans Funeral and Burial Benefits.” Funeral Consumers Alliance. Funerals.org. Accessed 9 February 2022.