BY DUANE ALLEN VACHON, PH.D. The final resting place for many of the heroes that I have written about over the years are in National Cemeteries. The National Cemetery Administration of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs maintains 131 of the 147 national cemeteries. The Department of the Army maintains two national cemeteries, Arlington National Cemetery and United States Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery.
Death is something we often talk about as if it is a possibility. The fact of the matter is it is the ultimate statistic, one in one. If you are serving or have served your country in the military this article will help you understand your entitlements to burial in a National Cemetery.
In 1862, President Lincoln signed into law legislation authorizing the establishment of national cemeteries “…for the soldiers who shall die in the service of the country.” Fourteen cemeteries were established that year. Today there are 128 National cemeteries administered by the Veterans Affairs department in 39 states and Puerto Rico. The Department of the Army maintains 2 National cemeteries, Arlington and the U.S. Soldiers and Airmen’s National cemetery in Washington D.C.
Who qualifies? Any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who dies while on active duty.
You also qualify if you have had military service and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. With certain exceptions. Service that commenced after September 7, 1980 as an enlisted person and October 16, as 1981 as an officer must have been for a continuous period of 24 months.
Burial benefits available include a gravesite in any of our 131 national cemeteries with available space, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a Government headstone or marker, a burial flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate, at no cost to the family. Some veterans may also be eligible for Burial Allowances. Cremated remains are buried or inurned in national cemeteries in the same manner and with the same honors as casketed remains.
When burial or memorialization is in a national cemetery, state veterans’ cemetery, or military post/base cemetery, a headstone or marker will be ordered by the cemetery officials based on inscription information provided by the next of kin or authorized representative.
Spouses and dependents are not eligible for a Government-furnished headstone or marker unless they are buried in a national cemetery, state veteran’s cemetery, or military post/base cemetery.
Note: There is no charge for the headstone or marker itself; however arrangements for placing it in a private cemetery are the applicant’s responsibility and all setting fees are at private expense.
Burial benefits available for spouses and dependents buried in a national cemetery include burial with the veteran, perpetual care, and the spouse or dependent’s name and date of birth and death will be inscribed on the veteran’s headstone, at no cost to the family. Eligible spouses and dependents may be buried, even if they predecease the veteran.
Upon the family’s request, Public Law 106-65 requires that every eligible veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, to include folding and presenting the United States burial flag and the playing of Taps. The law defines a military funeral honors detail as consisting of two or more uniformed military persons, with at least one being a member of the veteran’s parent service of the armed forces. The DOD program calls for funeral home directors to request military funeral honors on behalf of the veterans’ family. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration cemetery staff can also assist with arranging military funeral honors at VA national cemeteries. Veterans’ organizations may assist in providing military funeral honors. When military funeral honors at a national cemetery are desired, they are arranged prior to the committal service by the funeral home.
Burial Flags, a United States flag is provided, at no cost, to drape the casket or accompany the urn of a deceased veteran who served honorably in the U. S. Armed Forces. It is furnished to honor the memory of a veteran’s military service to his or her country. VA will furnish a burial flag for memorialization for each other than dishonorable discharged
• Veteran who served during wartime
• Veteran who died on active duty after May 27, 1941
• Veteran who served after January 31, 1955
• Peacetime veteran who was discharged or released before June 27, 1950
• certain persons who served in the organized military forces of the Commonwealth of the Philippines while in service of the U.S. Armed Forces and who died on or after April 25, 1951
• Certain former members of the Selected Reserves
Who Is Eligible to Receive the Burial Flag? Generally, the flag is given to the next-of-kin, as a keepsake, after its use during the funeral service. When there is no next-of-kin, VA will furnish the flag to a friend making request for it. For those VA national cemeteries with an Avenue of Flags, families of veterans buried in these national cemeteries may donate the burial flags of their loved ones to be flown on patriotic holidays.
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 deceased veterans. This program was initiated in March 1962 by President John F. Kennedy and has been continued by all subsequent Presidents. Statutory authority for the program is Section 112, Title 38, of the United States Code.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administers the PMC program by preparing the certificates which bear the current President’s signature expressing 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.
Eligible recipients, or someone acting on their behalf, may apply for a PMC in person at any VA regional office or by U.S. mail or toll-free fax. Requests cannot be sent via email. Please be sure to enclose a copy of the veteran’s discharge and death certificate to verify eligibility, as they cannot process any request without proof of honorable military service. Please submit copies only, as they will not return original documents.
Gravesites and niches cannot be prebooked, they are only available at time of need. If you wish to have your remains placed in a National Cemetery it is a good idea to make available to your family a copy of your discharge form (DD214).
If you have any questions about burial benefits your local VA office can be contacted on 1-800-827-1000.
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.
If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran.
Author: Duane Vachon
Duane A. Vachon PhD has been a licensed clinical psychologist for over thirty years. He belongs to the order of Secular Franciscans and is a life member of the Guild of Pastoral Psychology. After living almost 40 years as an expatriate, he now writes from his home in Hawaii. He has several books published and has written hundreds of articles on social justice and spiritual issues. His Doctoral thesis on ethics has set the standard at many universities. Reach Dr. Vachon at firstname.lastname@example.org
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