New York State Funeral Directors Association

When a Veteran Passes Away

A Planning Guide for the Surviving Family

Produced by: Vietnam Veterans of America - New York State Council and The New York State Tribute Foundation, Inc., an affiliate of the New York State Funeral Directors Association, Inc.

One of the more difficult tasks a survivor may face after the death of a beloved Veteran is identifying, securing and completing the numerous claim forms to obtain VA survivors' benefits. The anxiety and fear of the unknown — who to call, what to do, or where to go for help — can be a daunting experience.

To avoid such a situation, and to ensure that those who have proudly served our nation take advantage of all the benefits to which they are entitled, Veterans and their families are encouraged to organize their personal and military records as part of regular estate planning.

While your funeral director can assist you with the necessary paperwork, gathering and storing these important documents now will help ease the burden and be helpful to your family at the time of need.

Veterans of the United States armed forces may be eligible for a broad range of programs and services provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Eligibility for most VA benefits is based upon discharge from active military service under other than dishonorable conditions.

Reservists and National Guard members, as well as their spouses and dependent children, may also be eligible for VA burial and memorial benefits if they were entitled to retirement pay at the time of death, or would have been if they had been over age 60.

Important Documents

The following documents will be needed when applying for benefits related to a Veteran's death:

  • Veteran's discharge certificate (DD Form 214) or DD Form 1300 "Report of Casualty" (provided by your Service Casualty Officer)
  • Veteran's Social Security number
  • Veteran's death certificate (if the Veteran did not die in a VA healthcare facility)
  • Veteran's birth certificate (to determine parents' benefits)
  • Marriage Certificate
  • Divorce Decree(s) (if any)
  • Birth certificate, adoption and/or custody documents for each of the Veteran's children
  • Social Security Numbers for all family members
  • Wills and Deeds of Trust
  • Government life insurance policies

 

Military records

Veterans and next-of-kin of deceased Veterans have the same rights to full access to military records. Next-of-kin are the surviving spouse who has not remarried, children, parents, or siblings of the deceased Veteran.

Most Veterans and their next-of-kin can obtain free copies of their military records from the National Archives.

 

eBenefits

eBenefits is an online portal that provides resources and self-service capabilities to servicemembers, Veterans, and their families to apply, research, access, and manage their VA and military benefits and personal information through a secure Internet connection. Veterans and their families may register for an eBenefits account at www.ebenefits.va.gov.

 

Federal (VA) burial and memorial benefits

Veterans discharged from active duty under conditions other than dishonorable and servicemembers who die while on active duty, active duty for training, as well as the spouses and dependent children of Veterans and active duty servicemembers, may be eligible for VA burial and memorial benefits. These benefits include:

Burial in a VA National Cemetery — Eligible Veterans, their spouses and dependents can be buried in a VA National Cemetery at no cost to the family.

Headstones and Markers — Eligible Veterans are provided with an inscribed headstone or marker at no cost to the family.

Presidential Memorial Certificates — Recognize the military service of honorably discharged deceased Veterans, and will be issued upon request of the family.

Military Funeral Honors — At the family’s request, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) will provide military funeral honors consisting of folding and presentation of the U.S. flag and the playing of “Taps.”

Burial Flags — An American flag can drape an eligible Veteran’s casket; your funeral director will obtain this from the VA.

Reimbursement of Burial Expenses — If the family has already paid for the Veteran's burial or funeral, and has not been reimbursed by another government agency or some other source (such as the deceased Veteran's employer), the VA may reimburse the family for their out-of-pocket expenses.

 

Burial in a National (VA) Cemetery

Burial in a VA national cemetery is available for eligible Veterans, their spouses and dependents at no cost to the family. Burial includes the gravesite, grave-liner, opening and closing of the grave, a headstone or marker, and perpetual care as part of a national shrine.

Burial options are limited to those available at a specific cemetery, but may include in-ground casket, interment of cremated remains in a columbarium, in-ground or in a scatter garden. Gravesites cannot be reserved, and the VA does not normally conduct burials on weekends. Eligible spouses and dependents may be buried even if they predecease the Veteran.

Your funeral director will work with the National Cemetery Scheduling Office to make burial arrangements in a National Cemetery.

National Cemeteries in New York State

Bath National Cemetery, Bath

Calverton National Cemetery, Calverton

Woodlawn National Cemetery**, Elmira

Long Island National Cemetery**, Farmingdale

Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery, Schuylerville

**These cemeteries have space available for cremated remains in a columbarium only. However, casketed remains of subsequent family members in the same gravesite of previously interred family members can be accommodated.

 

Burial in a private cemetery

Burial benefits available for Veterans buried in a private cemetery may include a Government headstone, marker or medallion, a burial flag and a Presidential Memorial Certificate at no cost to the family. Some Veterans may also be eligible for Burial Allowances. VA benefits are not available to spouses and dependents buried in a private cemetery.

 

Burial allowance

VA burial allowances are flat rate monetary benefits that are generally paid at the maximum amount authorized by law for an eligible Veteran’s burial and funeral costs.

A VA regulation change in 2014 simplified the program to process payments for eligible survivors quickly and efficiently. Automatic payments are now made to the eligible surviving spouse upon notification of the Veteran’s death, without the need to submit a claim.

The VA may grant additional benefits, including the plot or interment allowance and transportation allowance, if it receives a claim for these benefits.

For service-related deaths, the VA will pay a maximum amount of $2,000 toward burial. If the Veteran is buried in a VA national cemetery, some or all of the cost of transporting the deceased to the nearest national cemetery with available gravesites may be reimbursed. There is no time limit for filing reimbursement claims in service-related deaths.

When the cause of death is not service-related, the reimbursements are generally described as two payments: a burial/funeral expense allowance and a plot/interment allowance.

Your funeral director can help determine if your Veteran is eligible for a burial allowance. A complete list of eligibility requirements is available at the US Department of Veterans Affairs website.

 

Headstones, markers and medallions

Veterans, active duty service members and retired Reservists and National Guard service members, are eligible for an inscribed headstone or marker for their grave at any cemetery – national, State Veterans, or private. Headstones and markers are provided for eligible spouses and dependents of Veterans only if they are buried in a national or state Veterans cemetery.

The VA may furnish a government headstone or marker even if the grave is already marked with a private one, or the VA may furnish a medallion instead of a headstone or marker for Veterans’ graves in private cemeteries when the grave is already marked with a privately-purchased headstone or marker.

Your funeral director can help you obtain VA Form 40-1330, Claim for Standard Government Headstone or Marker. There is no charge for the headstone or marker itself, however arrangements for placing it in a private cemetery are the family’s responsibility and all setting fees are at private expense.

 

Presidential memorial certificates

A Presidential Memorial Certificate (PMC) is an engraved paper certificate, signed by the current president, to honor the memory of honorably discharged Veterans who have died. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) prepares the certificates which allow the current president to express the country’s grateful recognition of the Veteran’s service in the United States Armed Forces. Eligible recipients include the next of kin and loved ones of honorably discharged deceased Veterans; more than one certificate may be provided.

To request a Presidential Memorial Certificate, eligible recipients (or someone acting on their behalf) may apply at any VA regional office or by using VA Form 40-0247. A copy of the Veteran's military discharge document (DD-214) along with a photocopy of the death certificate must be provided when submitting the request.

 

Military Funeral Honors

"Honoring Those Who Served” is the national program for providing dignified military funeral honors to Veterans who have defended our nation. Upon the family's request, every eligible Veteran may receive a military funeral honors ceremony, to include folding and presenting the United States burial flag and the playing of Taps. A military funeral honors detail will consist of two or more uniformed military persons, with at least one being a member of the Veteran's parent service of the armed forces; Veterans’ service organizations or volunteer groups may help provide honors.

Your funeral director will request military funeral honors on behalf of the Veteran's family from either the U.S. Dept. of Defense, NYS Division of Military and Naval Affairs (DMNA) or the NY National Guard. It is important to inform your funeral director immediately if you would like a Military Honors Ceremony since it often takes 48 hours to process and implement a request for an honors ceremony.

 

Burial flags

A United States flag is provided, at no cost, to drape the casket or accompany the urn of a deceased Veteran who honorably served in the U.S. Armed Forces. A flag is provided as a symbol of honor and remembrance of a Veteran’s military service to his or her country. Generally, after its use at the funeral service, the flag is presented to the next-of-kin as a keepsake.

When there is no next-of-kin, a close friend may receive a flag from the VA. For national VA cemeteries with an Avenue of Flags, a Veteran’s family may donate the burial flag of their loved one to be flown on patriotic holidays.

Your funeral director will assist you in obtaining a flag from the local U.S. Post Office or a regional VA office.

 

NYS Supplemental Burial Allowance

To honor servicemembers who gave their lives in combat, New York State offers surviving family members a Supplemental Burial Allowance of up to $6,000. This allowance is used to defray funeral and burial expenses not covered by the federal government. A family member must bear part or all costs of the servicemember’s funeral and/or interment to be eligible.

Applications for the Supplemental Burial Allowance are available online at veterans.ny.gov, by calling the NYS Division of Veterans’ Affairs helpline at: 1.888.838.7697, or from any of the State Veterans Counseling Offices.

 

NYS Vet Centers

Vet Centers are community-based facilities that offer a wide range of free services to Veterans and their families, including bereavement counseling, outreach and education and assistance with benefits.

There are Vet Centers located throughout New York State, including:

Albany | Babylon | Binghamton | Bronx | Brooklyn | Buffalo | Hicksville (Nassau) | Middletown | New York - Harlem | New York – Manhattan | Rochester | Staten Island | Syracuse | Watertown | White Plains | Woodhaven (Queens)

For eligibility and to learn more about Vet Centers, visit the US Department of Veteran Affairs, Vet Center Program website or call a NYS Veterans Counselor at 1-888-838-7697 (VETSNYS).

 

NY County benefits and Veteran Service Agencies

Benefits vary with each county in New York State. Check with your County Veterans' Service Agency: 

Albany County (518) 447-7710
Allegany County (585) 268-9387
Broome County (607) 778-2147
Cattaraugus County (716) 701-3298
Cayuga County (315) 253-1281
Chautauqua County (716) 661-8255
Chemung County (607) 737-5445
Chenango County NONE
Clinton County (518) 565-4720
Columbia County (518) 828-3610
Cortland County (607) 753-5014
Delaware County (607) 746-2334
Dutchess County (845) 486-2060
Erie County (716) 858-6363
Essex County NONE
Franklin County (518) 481-1538
Fulton County (518) 736-5650
Genesee County (585) 815-7905
Greene County (518) 943-3703
Hamilton County (518) 736-5650
Herkimer County (315) 867-1127
Jefferson County (315) 785-3086
Lewis County (315) 376-5316
Livingston County (585) 243-7960
Madison County (315) 366-2395
Monroe County (585) 753-6040
Montgomery County (518) 853-8152
Nassau County (516) 572-6565
New York City (212) 442-4171\
Niagara County (716) 438-4090
Oneida County (315) 798-5830
Onondaga County (315) 435-3217
Ontario County (585) 396-4185
Orange County (845) 291-2470
Orleans County (585) 589-3219
Oswego County (315) 591-9100
Otsego County (607) 547-4224
Putnam County (845) 808-1620
Rensselaer County (518) 270-2760
Rockland County (845) 638-5244
St. Lawrence County (315) 386-4754
Saratoga County (518) 884-4115
Schenectady County (518) 377-2738
Schoharie County (518) 295-2053
Schuyler County (607) 535-2091
Seneca County (315) 539-1798
Steuben County (607) 664-2527
Suffolk County (631) 853-8387
Sullivan County (845) 807-0233
Tioga County (607) 687-8227
Tompkins County NONE
Ulster County (845) 340-3190
Warren County (518) 761-6342
Washington County (518) 746-2470
Wayne County (315) 946-5993\
Westchester County (914) 995-2145
Wyoming County (585) 786-8860
Yates County (315) 536-5196

Miscellaneous benefits

A Veterans counselor can answer questions about eligibility for benefits and the application procedures for any of the benefits available.

A Veteran’s family may also be entitled to additional benefits such as:

  • Dependency & Indemnity Compensation (DIC)
  • Death Pension
  • Home Loan Guaranties
  • VA Life Insurance
  • Department of Defense Death Gratuity
  • Health Insurance

For more information please visit www.vba.va.gov or call toll-free (800) 827-1000.

 

Veteran organizations

If your loved one was a member of a veterans’ organization, such as the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), or Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), ask your funeral director to contact the organization’s service representative to arrange for a ritual service and casket bearers.

 

Bereavement counseling

The VA offers bereavement counseling to all immediate family members including spouses, children, parents, and siblings of servicemembers who die in the line of duty while on active service.

This also includes federally-activated members of the National Guard and reserve components. VA's bereavement counseling is provided at no cost in community-based Vet Centers located near the family or can oftentimes be made available in the family's home or where the family feels most comfortable.

Families may request this service by visiting www.vetcenter.va.gov or by calling 202-461-6530.

 

Timing is important

Any claim for VA benefits should be filed as promptly as possible to insure the earliest effective date of awarding benefits.

 

Important phone numbers

Important Phone Numbers

NYS Funeral Directors Association
800-291-2629

NYS Division of Veterans' Affairs (DVA)
888-838-7697

VA (US Department of Veterans Affairs) Hotline
800-827-1000

Telecommunication Device for the Deaf
800-829-4833

Bereavement Counseling
202-461-6530