VA Rocky Mountain Network
Behind Friendly Lines: Memorial & Burial Benefits
Memorial and burial benefits for veterans
Apply for Pre-Need Burial Eligibility
Billy Earl Thornburg was laid to rest at Pikes Peak National Cemetery (PPNC) on August 22,2022. Billy's daughter, TJ, grieved the loss of this monumental figure in her life. But the experience could have been much more challenging – and more expensive. TJ didn't have her father's DD-214 and she wasn't sure of the process to inter him. She and her sister needed a lot of help and received it from a volunteer at PPNC.
Her experience at PPNC was so phenomenal (her word, not mine) that she now volunteers there every Tuesday. “They’re going through one of the worst days of their lives and being there to answer their questions – that’s what I do to help,” she recently shared with me.
This month’s Behind Friendly Lines column isn’t about Memorial Day and honoring those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It’s about preparing in advance and making arrangements for your Memorial Day. Veterans who read this column or those of you who know a veteran, my purpose is simple: help you understand the available memorial and burial benefits offered by VA.
VA-provided memorial and burial benefits are a tremendous value for veterans. Not only is every cemetery maintained at national shrine standards, but the benefits are provided at no cost to the veteran or family, saving them thousands of dollars compared to burial in a private cemetery.
For comparison, in Colorado Springs, burial at Memorial Gardens Cemetery begins at $1,895, while a casket interment and grave space at Evergreen and Fairview Cemetery begins at $2,900. In the Denver metro area, immediate burial services at Fairmount Cemetery start at $2,625. No one wants to talk dollars and cents when they are trying to honor a loved one, but if you can save a few thousand dollars by leveraging VA memorial and burial benefits, I suggest you consider it in your legacy planning.
Nevertheless, memorial and burial benefits are rarely used by veterans compared to other VA benefits. Here are some figures to better explain:
About half of all veterans are eligible for VA health care, and about a third of all veterans actively use VA health care – that’s encouraging.
About 85% of eligible veterans use their GI Bill benefits, either themselves or by transferring those benefits to a family member – that’s even better!
However, only 15% of all veterans who die each year are interred in a VA national cemetery (an additional 5% are interred in a VA-funded state, territorial or tribal cemetery) – that’s disappointing.
Captain Roy Rogers (U.S. Navy, retired) found himself in a similar situation as TJ. His brother-in-arms, Captain Jerry Spaulding, passed at the age of 78 on December 26,
2022. Roy essentially became the liaison for Jerry’s family and worked with PPNC supervisor, Ronald “Dustin” Venn, to quickly arrange for a service and interment on January 6, 2023.
“Dustin went out of his way to fit the family’s desires into a very tight timeline. He made it happen,” Roy shared with me. “I’ve rarely seen someone with a better grasp of how to fit everything together like Dustin.”
I know the decision on where to bury a loved one is a deeply personal one every family must make. Many families have long traditions of using a particular plot. All families should know they can honor the service of their Veteran with a VA-provided headstone, marker, or medallion, which will be manufactured and shipped to the cemetery at no cost to the family.
The best way a veteran can take advantage of this benefit is to make his or her preferences known to their family, and then apply in advance to determine eligibility through the National Cemetery Administration’s pre-need program. Veterans can apply by mail or online at https://www.va.gov/burials-memorials/pre-need-eligibility/. While families can apply for interment in a national cemetery at the time of death, the advantage of a pre-need application is the Veteran is still around to help locate the necessary military discharge documents which are required to determine eligibility.
As a veteran and someone who is moving into the latter stage of life, I did this about two years ago, and now my wife and children have the paperwork included with my will.
Thanks for allowing me to walk alongside you behind friendly lines.
For more information about VA memorial and burial benefits, visit