The Department of Veterans Affairs is expanding benefits to help pay for veterans' end-of-life expenses, the department announced Friday.
The expanded benefits include reimbursements for transporting remains to state and tribal veterans cemeteries, in addition to previously eligible national cemeteries; allowances for VA plots or interments for tribal organizations; and higher payments for non-service-connected burial benefits, according to a news release Friday.
"Last fiscal year, VA delivered more than 84,000 burial benefits to families of veterans," Joshua Jacobs, the VA's under secretary for benefits, said in the news release. "Expanding burial benefits means we are able to ensure veterans are honored in their final resting place, and assist their family, caregivers, and survivors during the difficult time of their loved one's passing."
The expanded benefits comes after the department earlier this year made a push to encourage more veterans to use the burial benefits.
Fewer than half of veterans who qualified for a burial allowance or headstone last year used the benefit, while just 20% of eligible veterans were buried in a cemetery managed or supported by the VA, a benefit that comes at no cost to the veteran's family, department officials said in January.
The VA manages 155 cemeteries nationwide and funds an additional 121 state, territorial and tribal veterans cemeteries.
The department will pay a veteran's surviving spouse, child, parent or executor for expenses related to burying the veteran if they have not been reimbursed by any other organizations. The veteran must have been discharged under something other than dishonorable conditions.
If a veteran's remains are unclaimed, the department also provides benefits to the funeral home or third party who handled burial arrangements.
Depending on when the death happened, service-related deaths can get up to $2,000 in expenses covered, while non-service-related deaths have been able to get up to $893 for a burial allowance and $893 for a plot.
The average cost of a funeral was nearly $8,000 in 2021, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.
The expenses that the VA will cover can include a veteran's gravesite, burial, funeral and transportation of remains to the final resting place, and benefits are available for all legal burial types, including cremation, burial at sea and donation of remains to a medical school.
There is no time limit to apply for benefits for a service-connected burial, plot or interment allowance, or transportation costs, but claims for non-service-connected benefits must be filed within two years of the veteran's burial or cremation.
-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on X @reporterkheel.