Responding to the rising cost of final arrangements for America's veterans and their loved ones, Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-NV) has introduced legislation to update burial and marker benefit payments administered through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
"Veterans who proudly served our nation are entitled to benefit payments to help cover the cost of their final arrangements. But over time, inflation has eroded the purchasing power of these payments, leaving it to families and states to cover any extra costs," said Berkley.
The Burial Benefits Improvement Act (H.R. 4045) increases payments to match the same percentage of burial costs that were covered in 1973 when the benefits were initiated.
"Veterans deserve to be laid to rest with full recognition of their military service and by increasing these benefits, we can defray costs for families who might otherwise be unable to cover such an expense. My legislation increases payments so that veterans and their loved ones can have peace of mind when planning for their final arrangements," said Berkley.
Specifically, The Burial Benefits Improvement Act:
Increases the Department of Veterans Affairs plot allowance from $300 to $745 for veterans who are buried in a state veterans cemetery or a private cemetery;
Increases the burial allowance from $2,000 to $4,100 for veterans who die as a result of service-connected injuries; and
Increases the burial allowance from $300 to $1,270 for a veteran whose cause of death is not related to military service.
In addition to updating burial assistance benefit payments, Berkley has introduced separate legislation (H.R. 4044) that restores an allowance for the purchase of a gravestone or other funeral marker.
"Whether it's a veteran who served in World War II or one who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan, this enhanced allowance will help ease the burden on families who are already coping with the loss of a loved one," said Berkley. "These men and women earned their benefits through military service to our nation and we owe it them in return to make sure these payments retain the proper value over time."
In 1972, the law creating the National Cemetery Administration included a provision authorizing a burial plot allowance as a means to offset demands on national cemeteries and as recognition of the personal, religious and ethnic preferences of veterans. Subsequent legislation established additional forms of burial assistance, including a cash reimbursement to veterans and their families who preferred to purchase their own marker or headstone for placement in a private cemetery.
In 1990, Congress eliminated the marker allowance and curtailed eligibility of wartime veterans to receive the plot allowance unless they were receiving VA compensation, pension benefits, or if they died of service connected injuries. The Berkley bill restores these benefits to veterans of any war who have been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, as was the case prior to 1990.