On May 29, Memorial Day, Americans honored those who have served our country in the armed services. Fittingly, the Veterans Administration (VA) honors veterans and their family by making available federal burial and memorial benefits, not only to the veterans discharged from other than under dishonorable conditions, but to their widows and dependents. Those in the National Guard and reservists who have served their full period of active duty, along with their spouses and dependent children, are included.

Burial and Memorial Benefits

Eligible veterans, their spouses and dependents are entitled to be buried in a VA national cemetery at no cost. Benefits include the gravesite, grave-liner, opening and closing of the grave, a headstone or marker and perpetual care of a national shrine. For the veteran’s burial the family may obtain a burial flag, Presidential Memorial Certificate and military funeral honors provided by the Department of Defense. Of the 132 national cemeteries, 73 are currently open for interments either by casket or cremation. In addition, 18 may accept cremation remains only.

Active Duty Defined

Generally, active duty is defined for those serving after September 7, 1980, as an enlisted person and after October 16, 1981, as an officer for a minimum of 24 consecutive months. As reservists or National Guard veterans must serve the full period for which they are called. 

Surviving Spouses Who Remarry

If the veteran died after January 1, 2000, the surviving spouse will retain the funeral and burial benefits even if the spouse remarries.

Children of Veterans

Children of veterans are eligible for burial when they die if they are unmarried and under 21 years of age, or are unmarried fulltime students at an approved educational institution and under 23 years of age.

Parents of Veterans   

In certain circumstances, the parents of a veteran who died as a result of hostile activity or from combat training-related injuries may be eligible to be buried with their veteran child if the veteran has no surviving spouse or dependent children. This eligibility is limited to available space, service members who died on or after October 7, 2001 and biological or adoptive parents who died on or about October 13, 2010.

Making Arrangements

In most instances, arrangements for burial can be made by the next of kin or by the funeral director who is authorized by the family through the National Cemetery Scheduling Office (http://www.cem.va.gov/bene/need.asp). In certain cases, the individual in charge may contact the national cemetery in which burial is requested. Those seeking the service should be aware that the VA does not normally conduct burials on weekends.

Headstones, Markers and Medallions 

The VA will provide at no cost for eligible veterans an inscribed headstone or marker for their unmarked grave anywhere in the world. For veterans whose deaths occurred after November 1, 1990, the VA may provide a headstone or marker, even if the grave is already marked with a private one. Alternatively, the VA will furnish a medallion to be attached at an existing headstone or marker.  Spouses and children are eligible for a marker or headstone only if they are buried in a veterans cemetery.

Not all private cemeteries accept VA headstones or markers, so it is important to verify that the particular cemetery allows this installation. The applicant must pay for installation fees at the private cemetery.

Planning for Burial and Memorial Benefits

Families of veterans should familiarize themselves with the requirements for applying for burial and memorial well in advance of the death. An excellent source is provided at this site:


Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm in Fort Worth. She lives and practices in beautiful Somervell County, near Chalk Mountain.