A primer on VA’s pre-need burial eligibility

Holiday gatherings usually mean food and fun, but there are often serious discussions about what’s happening with members of our family and our plans. Last year, we tackled the implications of Alzheimer’s, and the year before that my son shared his decision to join the Army with the extended family. Good or bad, exciting or frightening, at our house the holiday season offers opportunities to dive into deep issues.
As a financial planner, I think that’s a good thing. Discussions (and action!) about wishes, wills, powers of attorney, care plans and the like can all help create clarity and provide peace of mind across generations.
Speaking of peace of mind, VA’s National Cemetery Administration announced a new Pre-Need Eligibility Determination Program last December. Whether you’re 24 or 74, this could be just what you need to do to make things easy on your family when you pass away. I remember that when my father died, we had to scrounge through his records to find a DD 214 and then make numerous phone calls, send faxes and do a lot of grunt work that this program has the potential to eliminate. Even if it’s not a fun or exciting topic, signing up is a great way to do what’s necessary to take care of your family.
Remember, VA burial benefits include burial in any open VA national cemetery (there are 135 national cemeteries in 40 states and Puerto Rico), a grave liner, perpetual care of the gravesite, a headstone, a burial flag and a presidential memorial certificate. By getting all the details ironed out to smooth the process during a difficult time, you can find significant financial savings for your family.
The eligibility requirements are outlined at www.cem.va.gov, and include being discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. After your death, your family will need to contact VA’s National Cemetery scheduling office to request burial benefits.
I’ve submitted my application and expect to receive it in 60 to 90 days, I’ll have a nice, clean letter and instructions ready for my wife and kids to bust out when it’s my time – hopefully in about 50 years or so.

J.J. Montanaro is a certified financial planner with USAA, The American Legion’s preferred provider of financial services. Submit questions for him online.