An important benefit offered to active duty service members, vets and their immediate family members is the right to be buried in a Veterans Affairs (VA) national cemetery. 

VA operates 132 national cemeteries.  Of these, 73 are currently open for both new casket and cremation interments; 18 may accept new interment of cremated remains only.

There are specific requirements that must be met and several related benefits you can take advantage of as well.

Burial and memorialization eligibility

The following are the requirements for an active service member, a veteran, spouses and dependents to be buried in a VA National Cemetery:

  • Service members who die while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.
  • Veterans discharged from active duty under conditions that are other than dishonorable
  • Spouses and dependent children of veterans and active duty members may be eligible for VA burial and memorial benefits.  The veteran does not have to die before the spouse or dependent child can be eligible
  • National Guard and reservists who serve the full period for which they are called to active duty, their spouses and dependent children may also be eligible.

Burial and memorialization key information

Burial for all eligible persons is available at no cost and includes the gravesite, grave-liner, opening and closing of the grave, a headstone or marker, and perpetual care as part of a national shrine. For Veterans, benefits may also include a burial flag, Presidential Memorial Certificate and military funeral honors provided by the Department of Defense.

With certain exceptions, active duty service beginning after Sept 7, 1980, as an enlisted person, and after Oct 16, 1981, as an officer, must be for a minimum of 24 consecutive months or the full period of active duty

Surviving spouses of Veterans who died on or after Jan. 1, 2000, do not lose eligibility for burial in a national cemetery if they remarry. Unmarried dependent children of Veterans who are under 21 years of age, or under 23 years of age if a full-time student at an approved educational institution, are eligible for burial. Unmarried adult children who become physically or mentally disabled and incapable of self-support before age 21, or age 23 if a full-time student may also be eligible.

Certain parents of service members who die as a result of hostile activity or from combat training-related injuries may be eligible for burial in a national cemetery with their child.

VA normally does not conduct burials on weekends. Gravesites cannot be reserved; however, VA will honor reservations made before 1973 by the Department of the Army.

Headstones, Markers and Medallions Veterans, active duty service members, retired Reservists and National Guard service members, and Reservists and National Guardsmen service members with creditable active duty service, are eligible for an inscribed headstone or marker for their unmarked grave at any cemetery, including national, state veterans, tribal, or private. VA will deliver a headstone or marker at no cost, anywhere in the world. 

Spouses and dependent children are eligible for a government headstone or marker only if they are buried in a national or State Veterans cemetery.

For headstones or markers for private cemeteries, before ordering, the next of kin or authorized representative should check with the cemetery to ensure that the Government-furnished headstone or marker will be accepted. All installation fees at private cemeteries are the responsibility of the applicant.

To submit a claim for a head­ stone or marker for a gravesite in a private cemetery, use VA Form 40-1330, Application for Standard Government Headstone or Marker (available at http://www.va.gov/vaforms/).  A copy of the Veteran’s military discharge document is required. Mail forms to Memorial Pro­ grams Service, Department of Veterans Affairs, 5109 Russell Road, Quantico, VA 22134-3903. The form and supporting documents may also be faxed toll free to 1-800-455-7143.

Headstones and markers must be inscribed with the name of the deceased, branch of service, and year of birth and death. They also may be inscribed with other optional information, including an emblem of belief and, space permitting, additional text including military rank; war service such as “World War II;” complete dates of birth and death; military awards; military organizations; civilian or Veteran affiliations; and personalized words of endearment.

For unclaimed veterans who die while at a VA facility under authorized VA admission or at a non-VA facility under authorized VA admission, the closest VA healthcare facility is responsible for arranging proper burial for the unclaimed Veteran.

Reimbursement of burial expenses

Veteran’s Affairs will pay a burial allowance up to $2,000 if the veteran’s death is service-connected. In such cases, the person who bore the Veteran’s burial expenses may claim reimbursement from VA. In some cases, VA will pay the cost of transporting the remains of a Veteran whose death was service-connected to the nearest national cemetery with available gravesites. There is no time limit for filing reimbursement claims in service-connected death cases.

A burial and funeral allowance of up to $300 will be paid for veterans who, at the time of death from nonservice-connected injuries, were entitled to receive pension or compensation or would have been entitled if they were not receiving military retirement pay.

Veteran’s Affairs will pay a burial and funeral allowance of up to $734 when the veteran’s death occurs in a VA facility, a VA-contracted nursing home or a state veterans nursing home. In cases in which the veteran’s death was not service connected, claims must be filed within two years after burial or cremation.

A plot allowance of up to $734 will be paid when a veteran is buried in a cemetery not under U.S. government jurisdiction if: the veteran was discharged from active duty because of disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty; the veteran was receiving compensation or pension or would have been if the veteran was not receiving military retired pay; or the veteran died in a VA facility. The plot allowance may be paid to the state for the cost of a plot or interment in a state-owned cemetery reserved solely for veteran burials if the veteran is buried without charge. Burial expenses paid by the deceased’s employer or a state agency will not be reimbursed.

Burial flags and Presidential Memorial Certificates

Generally, VA will furnish a U.S. burial flag to memorialize Veterans who received other than dishonorable discharge.  The next of kin may apply for the flag at any VA Regional Office or U.S. Post Office by completing VA Form 21-2008, Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes. In most cases, a funeral director will help the family obtain the flag.

Presidential Memorial Certificates are issued to recognize the military service of honorably discharged deceased veterans and persons who died in the active military, naval, or air service. Next of kin, relatives and other loved ones may apply for a certificate by mailing, or faxing a completed and signed VA Form 40-0247, Presidential Memorial Certificate Request Form,  along with a copy of the veteran’s military discharge documents or proof of honorable military service.

Burial in Arlington, state and tribal veterans cemeteries

The Department of the Army administers Arlington National Cemetery and other Army installation cemeteries. Eligibility is generally more restrictive than at VA national cemeteries. For information, call (703) 607-8000, write Superintendent, Arlington National Cemetery, Arling­ton, VA 22211, or visit www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/.

There are currently 95 VA grant-funded Veterans cemeteries operating in 45 states and U.S. Territories that offer burial options for Veterans and their families. VA grant-funded cemeteries have similar eligibility requirements and certain states/tribal organizations may require state or tribal residency/membership. Some services, particularly for family members, may require a fee. Contact the state or tribal Veterans cemetery or the state Veterans Affairs office for information.

To locate a state or tribal Veterans cemetery, go here.  

For more information

For more information, contact the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the national cemetery you want to be buried at directly, or go to VA’s website page regarding burials and memorialization.

The next of kin or authorized representative (e.g., funeral director) makes interment arrangements at time of need by contacting the National Cemetery Scheduling Office or, in some cases, the national cemetery in which burial is desired.

To check the status of a claim for a headstone or marker for placement in a national, state, or tribal veterans cemetery, please call the cemetery. To check the status of one being placed in a private cemetery, please contact the Applicant Assistance Unit at 1-800-697-6947 or via email at mps.headstones@va.gov.