All members of the military, past and present, are entitled to specific death benefits. This is true regardless of whether the person passed away when they were on active duty or when they were retired after an honorable discharge.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Does the VA Pay for Cremation?
- Will the VA Pay for a Spouse’s Cremation?
- How Much Will the VA Reimburse or Pay for Cremation?
- How to Get the VA to Pay for a Veteran or Spouse’s Cremation
- Other Ways the VA Helps With Funeral or Burial Costs
- Other Ways to Get Help With Funeral or Burial Costs
The death benefits provided by the VA apply to traditional burial as well as cremation services. Understanding the benefits can be a little tricky, but with the right information, you’ll be able to apply for the correct amount and lower your total funeral cost. Here is everything you need to know about VA reimbursement for funeral and cremation services.
Does the VA Pay for Cremation?
It’s important to understand how VA death benefits work before you start planning for burial or cremation services. VA death benefits are very specific about what is and is not covered, and you might be surprised to learn that these benefits are somewhat limited.
First, the VA provides a number of services for veterans, their spouses, and dependents based on the assumption that they will be buried in a national cemetery. These services include:
- Opening and closing of the grave
- Perpetual care
- Government headstone, marker, or medallion
- Burial flag
- Presidential Memorial Certificate
Each of the above services is provided to the veteran, spouse, or dependent for free. What you might notice missing in that list is the actual funeral or cremation service prior to burial. So how do families pay for a funeral or cremation service?
This is where VA death benefits come in. A burial allowance, sometimes called death benefits, is what provides families with money to hold a funeral or have their loved one cremated. The benefits vary depending on whether the death was or was not service-related, or whether the person was under the direct care of VA healthcare at the time of their death.
In most cases, the death benefits or burial allowance will only cover a portion of funeral or cremation services.
Will the VA Pay for a Spouse’s Cremation?
As with veteran funeral benefits, the VA doesn’t pay directly for a cremation. The spouse of a military veteran is eligible for similar burial services and benefits as the veteran, including:
- Burial next to their loved one in a national cemetery
- Perpetual care
- Their name and dates etched on the headstone shared with their spouse
There are some exceptions, however. Spouses of veterans will not receive these benefits if:
- The veteran received a dishonorable discharge
- The spouse and veteran divorced
- The veteran or spouse was convicted of a capital crime
How Much Will the VA Reimburse or Pay for Cremation?
How much the VA will reimburse depends on the surrounding circumstances when a veteran dies. Here are the guidelines you should keep in mind to determine how much you’ll be reimbursed for your loved one’s cremation.
If the death is service-related and it occurred after September 11, 2001, you can receive up to $2,000.
If the death is not service-related and it occurred:
- On or after October 1, 2021, you can receive up to $300 burial allowance and $828 for the plot
- On or after October 1, 2020, but before October 1, 2021, you can receive up to $300 burial allowance and $807 for the plot
- On or after October 1, 2019, but before October 1, 2020, you can receive up to $300 burial allowance and $796 for the plot
If the death is not service-related but the person was under the care of a VA hospital at the time of their death, and it occured:
- On or after October 1, 2021, you can receive up to $828 burial allowance and $828 for the plot
- On or after October 1, 2020, but before October 1, 2021, you can receive up to $807 burial allowance and $807 for the plot
- On or after October 1, 2019, but before October 1, 2020, you can receive up to $796 burial allowance and $796 for the plot
How to Get the VA to Pay for a Veteran or Spouse’s Cremation
If you want to apply for the VA burial benefits, you’ll need to follow specific steps. Get familiar with each part of the process before you proceed with your application to ensure as smooth of a process as possible.
Step 1: Gather required documentation
Whether you’re requesting benefits for the cremation of a veteran or their spouse, you’ll need to gather the required documentation. This includes items like a marriage certificate to prove a spousal relationship and discharge papers to prove honorable discharge.
Proof of spousal relationship
To provide proof of spousal relationship, you’ll need to submit documentation that lists both married partners as legally married. This includes documents such as:
- Marriage certificate
- Death certificate
- Social Security Administration letter
- Court document
Proof of relationship must be provided for a spouse to receive any burial benefits.
Proof of honorable discharge
For veterans to receive VA burial or death benefits, they must have been honorably discharged. Those who are dishonorably discharged are ineligible for death benefits.
Proof of an honorable discharge includes supplying Form DD214 or other discharge documents that note an honorable discharge. If discharge documents are not available, then the military can confirm their discharge terms, but it will prolong the process.
If the veteran is already buried in a national cemetery, then proof of honorable discharge is not required for the spouse to receive benefits, as the veteran’s discharge terms would have been confirmed prior to their burial.
You’ll also need personal information such as the person’s social security number, place and date of birth, and place and date of death.
Step 2: Apply for benefits
Applying for VA death benefits can be done online on the VA.gov website. You’ll need to set up an online account when you begin the application process. Once you’ve signed up, you’ll be guided through a series of questions to determine eligibility. You can upload the documents and information you collected directly to the online application.
Step 3: Receive confirmation notice
Once you complete the application process, you’ll receive a confirmation notice that the application has been received. Print this or save a copy for your records in case you need to reference it later.
Step 4: Await approval
The VA will process all benefits applications in the order they are received. Depending on the time of year, this process could take anywhere from a week to a month. You’ll receive a notice in the mail if you need to submit more documentation or if your application has been approved.
Other Ways the VA Helps With Funeral or Burial Costs
There are several other ways you can receive some help with funeral costs from the VA. These methods aren’t directly related to funeral expenses. However, the benefits you receive after the death of a veteran can be used to help offset cremation expenses.
Government provided headstone or niche marker
Even if you choose to bury or inurn your loved one’s cremains in a private cemetery, you can apply for a government headstone or niche marker. This is provided free of cost to the family.
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation
The Dependency and Indemnity Compensation is a monthly tax-free stipend provided to an eligible surviving spouse, dependent children, or parents of the deceased veteran or servicemember. Though not specifically funeral-related, these funds can be used to help offset funeral and cremation expenses.
The Survivor’s Pension is a benefit paid out to a veteran’s spouse based on income. As long as the spouse has not remarried, this pension is received on an annual basis by spouses of wartime veterans whose death was not service-related.
Veteran’s Month of Death Benefits
If a veteran was receiving VA compensation when they passed away, the last month of benefits will be paid directly to the surviving spouse. This can be used to help offset costs related to cremation services.
Other Ways to Get Help With Funeral or Burial Costs
If you decide that you and your military spouse should be buried in a private non-national cemetery, then you’ll be left to shoulder all the costs. While you are still eligible to receive a niche marker provided by the government, you’ll have to bear the burden of the cremation service in addition to the purchase of a niche if you wish to have their cremains inurned.
Thankfully, there are several ways you can lower the expense.
Check for local charities
There are numerous charities that help with funeral costs and cremation expenses. If you aren’t receiving any help from the government, looking through charities that offer help is a good way to offset the costs you’ll incur.
Inquire with your church or religious organization
Many churches and religious organizations have a fund set aside to help members out with expenses related to burial or cremations. If you already belong to a church or religious organization, ask the pastor or elder if there are any funds you can apply for to request help with funeral expenses.
Another way to offset expenses is by giving friends and family members the opportunity to contribute to a funeral fund. Crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe charge no fees for the organizer and provide a simple and straightforward process for contributing to funeral funds.
Honoring a Servicemember or Spouse
Though cremation is one of the most cost-effective methods of final disposition, the expense can still place a burden on family members. Thankfully, there are multiple routes to receive assistance with these costs, such as VA burial allowance, VA benefits, crowdfunding, and local charities. By utilizing every avenue available, you should be able to honor the memory of a service member or spouse while keeping expenses low.