Up until the Civil War, soldiers were often buried where they fell on the battlefield, a practice that President Lincoln said was no way to treat those who had "borne the battle." In 1862, Congress authorized the purchase of land for the country's first 14 veteran cemeteries. Today, there are 155 national military cemeteries and 119 more state, territory or tribal-operated cemeteries.
Although these federal burial grounds are long established, many people are unaware of the broad eligibility and benefits the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) National Cemetery Administration (NCA) offers to veterans and their families. AARP spoke with Matthew Quinn, the VA's undersecretary for memorial affairs, about common misconceptions around the burial benefits program.
1. Burial benefits are not just for combat veterans
Most veterans who didn't receive a dishonorable discharge are eligible for a burial benefit. A spouse or minor child of a veteran is also eligible and, in some cases, an unmarried adult dependent child of a veteran.
"There's a perception that you had to serve in conflict in order to be considered a veteran or earn your benefits," Quinn said. "They have earned this by serving in our nation's military."
2. Burial benefits are not limited to military cemeteries
The VA provides a standard issue headstone or marker to any veteran who wishes to be buried in a private cemetery, free of charge. Eligibility requirements are different for this benefit, but combat service is still not required. Spouses and dependents are ineligible for benefits at a nonmilitary burial ground.