The Department of Veterans Affairs ( VA ) stands strong in supporting our LGBTQ servicemembers and veterans. As members of the LGBTQ community, we understand you may face many challenges. The last thing you need to be stressed about is end of life decisions. A good way to ensure that you and your loved ones will be prepared is to settle your affairs ahead of time, through the VA National Cemetery Administration ( NCA ) Pre-Need Eligibility program.
Talking about dying is quite uncomfortable for most people, but it is a part of life and should be included in your legacy planning. All active duty members and Veterans, and in some cases, reservists are eligible for a free burial in a VA national cemetery. With the Pre-Need program, you can verify your eligibility now, instead of leaving the burden to your loved ones in the event of your death.
The number-one benefit of the Pre-Need program is that it provides peace of mind. To be eligible, an official document, for example, the DD-214, showing the character of your service is anything other than dishonorable, is required to apply. Reserve and National Guard members will have to show that they served some time on active duty other than for training ( such as a deployment ) or that they served long enough to earn a retirement pension. Once your eligibility is confirmed, the VA maintains a record of your status in a database. A formal letter is sent to you and should be kept in a safe place along with other documents that your family will need when you die, like your will and life insurance information. And make sure your loved ones know your burial preferences so that in the event of death they will know what to do.
Keep in mind that many family members have trouble locating discharge documents at the time of their veterans' deaths. Very often, families are unaware of the VA benefits a veteran has earned and spend thousands of dollars on headstones and burial plots when they could have received these items for free had they known ahead of time. When your family tries to establish your eligibility after you die and they lack the proper documents, it can sometimes result in a non-eligible decision or with little or no time to provide the necessary documentation. So, it's very important to discuss this benefit with your family and apply for it while you are still alive.
A servicemember or veteran will receive the following burial benefits at no cost to the family: a gravesite, opening and closing of the grave, grave liner, and perpetual care of the gravesite. Memorial benefits include a government furnished headstone or marker, burial flag and Presidential Memorial Certificate. Military honors are requested through the Department of Defense. Your spouse, minor children and unmarried adult children who are legally dependent on you are also eligible for interment in the same grave or columbarium niche as you are, whether they die before or after you do, also at no charge.
Generally, a funeral director will assist with all this whole process, but you can access the Planning Your Legacy booklet at www.cem.va.gov/cem/docs/factsheets/Planning_Legacy_Booklet.pdf for more information.
In addition, if your spouse is also a servicemember or Veteran, he or she may be eligible for the same benefits on his or her own merit. This means, if requested, your spouse will be buried in a separate plot, either side by side with you in the same cemetery or in a different plot in a different cemetery.
For servicemembers and veterans who choose to be interred in a private cemetery, the family can get a government furnished headstone or marker at no cost ( though the cemetery may charge for mounting it ). If buried in a private cemetery with a private headstone, you are eligible for a free bronze medallion to be attached to the headstone or marker showing you are a Veteran and your branch of service.
Please note the Pre-Need eligibility only applies to VA national cemeteries. If you want to be buried in a state or tribal Veterans cemetery, check the state VA website you want ahead of time since some state Veterans cemeteries have residency requirements and other rules.
While families can always apply for the benefit at the time of death, VA encourages taking advantage of Pre-Need program now to ensure everyone is prepared. For more information about Pre-Need eligibility, visit www.cem.va.gov/pre-need/ .
Last, the VA established the Veterans Legacy Memorial ( VLM ) website www.va.gov/remember for family, friends, and visitors to leave "Tributes" or comments on a veteran's memorial page. The VLM is, by design, easy-to-use and navigate and is the country's first digital platform dedicated entirely to the preservation of the memory of the already 3.7 million Veterans interred in VA national cemeteries and it is continually updated.
For questions about VA burial benefits, please call the NCA Office of Engagement and Memorial Innovations at 202-632-8035 and reference this article.
Thank you for your service!
National Cemetery Administration
Office of Memorial Innovations and Engagement