The Independent Budget
Veterans Agenda for the 116th Congress

The Independent Budget Agenda for the 116th Congress
Click to Download Full Report
(added January 17, 2019)

National Cemetery Administration

Increase the Value of Veterans’ Burial Benefits

Recommendations

  • Burial and plot allowance must be increased to current costs and indexed to inflation.
  • Burial benefits must be adjusted to ensure veterans who do not have access to national, state, or tribal cemeteries are able to afford a burial which honors their service.

Background and Justification

Burial and Plot Allowance

The burial allowance was first introduced in 1917 to prevent veterans from being buried in potters’ fields. In its early history, the burial allowance was paid to all veterans, regardless of whether or not they died of a service-connected condition. Then, in 1973, the burial allowance was modified to reflect the status of service connection by paying those who died of a service-connected condition an increased amount. Also in 1973, the plot allowance was introduced to provide burial plot benefits for veterans who did not have reasonable access to a national cemetery.

The current payment for burial expenses is $2,000 for service-connected deaths and $300 for nonservice- connected deaths, along with a $780 plot allowance regardless of service connection. At its inception, the benefit covered 72 percent of the funeral costs for a service-connected death, 22 percent for a non-service-connected death, and 54 percent of the cost of a burial plot. However, there is a serious deficit between the benefit’s original value and its current value. In order to restore the benefit to its original intended value and adjust for inflation, Congress should increase the burial benefits and plot allowances so they represent the same percentage of current costs that were intended to be covered in 1973.

Plot allowances do not vary depending on whether or not the veteran died of a service-connected condition. All veterans who are eligible to be buried in a national cemetery and who served during wartime can apply for the benefit. The plot allowance should be increased to $1,327 to reflect current costs, which would approximate to 54 percent of what the average price for a plot would be today.

One of the National Cemetery Administration’s (NCA) strategic goals is to provide reasonable access (within 75 miles of a veteran’s residence) to a burial option in a national or Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)-funded state or tribal veterans’ cemetery for 95 percent of eligible veterans. Currently, the NCA reports that they have reached 92 percent of this access standard.

Increased Benefit for Those Who Lack Access

Based on NCA’s 75 mile access standard and the desire to provide quality burial benefits, IBVSOs recommend that the NCA separate burial benefits into two categories:

  1. Veterans who live within 75 miles of a VA, state, or tribal cemetery that has available plots; and
  2. Those who live more than 75 miles away from a VA, state, or tribal cemetery that has available plots.

The IBVSOs believe that those veterans who live more than 75 miles away, and therefore do not have reasonable options to use VA, state or tribal cemeteries, should be paid at a rate based on the cost of a private burial. To meet percentage levels from 1973, the burial benefit would need to be $7,107 for service-connected burials, and $2,213 for nonservice-connected burials outside the accessibility model distances.

For those who live within 75 miles, we believe that an adjusted rate of benefits is warranted for veterans who elect to be buried in a private cemetery, regardless of their proximity to a state or national veterans’ cemetery that could accommodate their burial needs. The veterans’ burial benefits should be based on the average cost for VA to conduct a funeral. Using this formula, the benefit for a serviceconnected burial would approximately adjust to $3,223; the amount for a non-service-connected burial would roughly increase to $985. These changes would provide burial benefits at equal percentages, based on the average cost for a VA funeral, adjusted to 2018 inflated costs.

Back to Top

Expand Eligibility for Burial Benefits

Recommendations

  • Congress should authorize VA to provide an allowance for transportation of veterans’ remains to tribal cemeteries.
  • Congress should give authority to VA to provide outer burial receptacles to state and tribal cemeteries.
  • Congress should establish a grant to enable NCA to expand the Veterans Legacy Program.

Background and Justification

Transportation of Remains to Tribal Cemeteries

In 2017, there were 11 fully operational tribal cemeteries, two in development, and 10 preapplications for tribal cemetery grants. Currently, VA will reimburse the cost of transporting a veteran’s remains to the nearest national cemetery if the veteran died of a service-connected condition. If a veteran died while receiving or traveling at VA expense, VA will cover the costs to transport a veteran’s remains from the place of death to the place of burial.

VA allows payment of the “charge for pickup of remains” on a round-trip or flat-charge basis. If the veteran dies while receiving authorized VA care, the remains are shipped to the place of burial by rail, and the charge for transporting the body equals the cost of two first class tickets. Currently, VA will provide payment for transportation to a national cemetery; “nearest national cemetery” is defined in many ways but it does not currently include tribal cemeteries.

VA has made significant strides in providing support to Native American veterans to include grants for cemeteries, increasing outreach to tribal veterans, and tribal veteran service representatives. Furthermore, VA now provides healthcare to tribal veterans including extending beneficiary travel benefits. Congress should authorize VA to provide an allowance for transportation of veterans’ remains to tribal cemeteries.

Outer Receptacles for State and Tribal Cemeteries

By VA definition, an outer burial receptacle is a grave liner, burial vault, or other similar type of container for a casket. VA will pay a monetary allowance for each burial in a VA national cemetery where a privately-purchased outer burial receptacle was used on and after October 9, 1996. For burials on and after January 1, 2000, the person identified in records contained in the NCA Burial Operations Support System as the person who privately purchased the outer burial receptacle will be paid the monetary allowance.

For burials during the period October 9, 1996 through December 31, 1999, the allowance will be paid to the person identified as the next of kin in records contained in the NCA Burial Operations Support System, based on the presumption that such person privately purchased the outer burial receptacle. If a person who is not listed as the next of kin provides evidence that he or she privately purchased the outer burial receptacle, the allowance will be paid instead to that person. No application is required to receive payment of a monetary allowance.

The Independent Budget veterans service organizations (IBVSOs) agree that state and tribal cemeteries should be included as accepted places of burial.

Expand Veterans Legacy Program

The IBVSOs believe it is important to perpetuate the memory and history of our fallen heroes. The NCA’s Veterans Legacy Program ensures the memories and stories of the brave men and women who have worn our nation’s uniform are preserved in perpetuity. While it is still being fully developed, the program provides an avenue for students, descendants, friends, and fellow veterans to learn about the contributions of veterans interred at VA national cemeteries made to their communities and the country.

The IBVSOs are strong proponents of the Veterans Legacy Program and urge Congress to establish a grant to help VA conduct research and produce educational materials for the program.

Back to Top