A rule change at the Veterans Affairs Department will allow veterans to apply for burial in national cemeteries before their death, rather than requiring family members to apply on their behalf after it.
Veteran burial benefits previously were approved at the "time of need." For families, that meant waiting until after the veteran died to apply for the benefits via fax or email by sending in a copy of the veteran's DD-214 or separation documents and then following up by phone.
The rule change instead allows veterans to be approved for burial in a VA national cemetery "pre-need," or before death, through a form submitted by fax, email or mail. The form can be filled out by the veteran or by someone else on his or her behalf.
More than four million people are buried in VA cemeteries.
Burial locations are assigned based on availability at the time of need, VA officials said. Although veterans cannot reserve a gravesite, they can indicate on the form a cemetery preference. Doing so allows VA officials to predict need at cemeteries, and may help inform decisions for those choosing a burial site after the veteran's death, officials said.
The predetermination process qualifies veterans for burial in 135 cemeteries and 33 soldiers' lots operated by the VA nationwide. The process does not include Arlington National Cemetery, which is operated by the U.S. Army and uses a different application system.
After receiving the burial benefits application, the VA will provide written notice of its decision regarding eligibility, officials said in a release. The decision and supporting documents will then be stored electronically by the VA to make burial arrangements faster when they are needed, they said.
The change is an easy way for the VA to simplify the burial process for grieving families, officials with the Veterans of Foreign Wars said, and allow veterans to put their affairs in order.
"We think it's something that's a no-nonsense, easy solution to ease the burden as people enter the later years of their lives," said Patrick Murray, an associate director for the VFW's national legislative service.
"We tell people to be proactive, but in this [the VA said], 'Oops, you can't do this, you have to wait until you die,' " he said. "We view this as a common sense solution for a problem we're glad is being taken care of."
Officials with the American Legion agreed.
"A predetermination is the right thing to do. It allows the veteran and their family a small measure of comfort at a time when they can use any comfort they can get," Lou Cell, the Legion's national director for veterans affairs and rehabilitation, said in a statement.
"The American Legion reviewed this policy when they were recommending these changes several months ago and assured the VA they had the American Legion's full support," he added.
In addition to burial in a national cemetery, the VA provides most veterans who were not dishonorably discharged with a government headstone or marker, a burial flag and a presidential memorial certificate after death. Some veterans’ survivors also qualify for burial allowances, designed to cover some burial and funeral costs.
Predetermination forms can be submitted by fax to 1-855-840-8299, email to Eligibility.PreNeed@va.gov or mail to the National Cemetery Scheduling Office, P.O. Box 510543, St. Louis, MO 63151, according to the VA.