Late Breaking News
Legislators Recommend Re-Evaluation of Veterans Burial Benefits
washington, dc—The Department of Veterans Affairs should direct more of its time and resources to explaining burial benefits to veterans, legislators told VA officials last month. Burial benefits entitle a veteran to a gravesite in a national cemetery, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a government headstone or marker, a U.S. flag, and Presidential Memorial Certificate. Veterans who opt to be buried in a state or private cemetery are also entitled to a headstone or marker. The National Cemetery Administration, the third arm of VA’s three-pronged organization that also includes the Veterans Health Administration and the Veterans Benefits Administration, oversees 2.8 million gravesites at 158 cemeteries across the country.
At a hearing of the House VA Oversight Subcommittee, Chairman John Hall (D-NY) explained that the current burial benefits have not been updated for decades, since their creation, and have not kept pace with inflation. In addition, VA’s current cemetery policies seem to leave large numbers of veterans un-served by a burial option. “VA’s current strategic goal of reaching 90-percent-served would require an additional 31 cemeteries beyond those already in operation or planned as of 2001,” he said.
Witnesses discussed a number of issues regarding veterans’ cemeteries, including the difficulty of establishing new cemeteries where needed, whether cremation-only cemeteries are serving the veteran community, and ways to improve dispersing information on burial benefits. Although Congress has increased the rates of burial and plot allowances over time, the fact remains that average funeral costs have increased at a higher rate than the national average inflation rate. Significant increases in the allowances are necessary to restore the value of these benefits to original levels.
Representatives from the NCAargued that VAis able to meet the needs of veterans. However, Steve Muro, VAActing Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, laid out some strategic goals for NCA, including assessment of its current 75-mile service area, an attempt ensure that most veterans live within 75 miles of a veterans cemetery. Another goal is examining the adequacy of its 170,000 threshold, which is the veteran population a single national cemetery can currently serve, when planning new cemeteries. VA also plans to examine the role of state cemetery grants in meeting veterans needs, and the potential use of cremation-only burial sites or mausoleums.