What the VA Does and Doesn’t Pay

Funeral pre-planning. It’s not a subject that gets too much discussion because no one likes to face death. That includes us, but since taking care of veteran families after a soldier suicide is our mission, we feel it’s important to examine the funeral process from start to finish. During the course of our mission, we’ve seen sudden death cause more heartbreak and financial burdens than it should.

After any kind of death, immediate action and decision making is required. There are many details to be answered, and in a kind of worst case scenario, you find yourself having to make many important and permanent decisions during a highly stressful time.

The right time to make these kinds of decisions is well in advance of need and with a professional. To help shed some light on this process, and to offer ways to make your passing as painless financially and emotionally as possible to those you leave behind, here’s what the VA does and doesn’t pay for:

The VA provides three items: a plot, a marker and a graveside military service. Veterans final resting place could be a plot of land in a national cemetery or a niche in the mausoleum if you are going to be cremated. They also get a marker which is the stone that sits into the ground to mark the grave or niche. And they will get a military service under a shelter.

For spouses, they also get a plot, but the spouse pays for the marker on their grave.

While that is helpful and sounds good, there’s really so much more that is required, not just to put your loved one to rest, but to handle the affairs and get everything in order, there’s much more that needs to be done and we see it all the time where it’s not done. There are decisions that need to be made that weren’t and now the family has to make them under duress.

What’s missing from the VA package?

The VA doesn’t pay for transportation. That means that if the death occurs away from where the plot is waiting for them, it needs to be transported. And it’s not just cross country transport or long distances we’re talking about. Someone has to take the body from the scene to the morgue or funeral home. In any event, it’s not covered by the VA.

Second, the VA does not cover the cost of a casket or vault. You can’t put a casket in the ground without a cement vault.

Third, if you want a chapel service, there’s a fee for that and that is not covered. They cover a graveside service, but not a chapel or church service.

Once a death occurs, a funeral director has to be involved, so anything that involves that business’ service is not covered by the VA.

There are two pinch points for veteran families that we’ve been told by the families: transporting the body and paying the funeral home. Not surprisingly, these are two areas not covered by the VA.

How can veterans and their families avoid these nightmares?

Planning in advance of need, pre-planning, is vital not just for veterans, but for anyone who wants to take that burden off their loved ones and get their wishes known.

What about life insurance? How is that processed at the time of the policy holder’s death?

If there’s a life insurance policy, the first step is for the funeral director and the family to verify that it’s valid. It is matched to the death certificate to confirm the legality, and the funeral home, or in our case, a third-party holding company, transfers the funds to pay for all the things the VA won’t in accordance to the final wishes. Everyone is paid and then the beneficiaries receive the balance.

But that doesn’t always go smoothly. We’ve heard stories of where it gets tied up in probate due to one issue or another and then that money isn’t available to pay for the services. Please make sure your insurance policy is in good order for when it is needed.

More than money, pre-planning is important because there are 107 questions that need to be asked at the time of need. Sadly, we’ve heard of families fighting over answers to these questions. Questions that should have been answered by the deceased while they were alive and of sound mind. Simple things like what is your favorite color and do you want your glasses on or off at the visitation turn into points of contention for the family. Also, the more important questions like burial or cremation need to be answered and not by the family.

Once a Soldier’s mission is to ease the financial burden for veteran families after a solider suicide. You can donate here.

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