What are Veterans Affairs Death Benefits?

Veterans of the United States Military are eligible to receive many types of benefits. Most of the benefits extend throughout the veterans’ lives and some are provided after a vet’s death which benefit their survivors.

Death Benefits

When a veteran dies, they often become eligible for burial in many national veterans’ cemeteries. If the decedent served in the military or was a service member who died in active duty, they qualify, as do their spouses and minor children. Military members who have received top awards such as the Purple Heart or those who have retired or died in active duty may be eligible for burial at Arlington National Cemetery, which has the strictest admittance requirements in the country. Veterans and their spouses must apply for burial in a VA cemetery to learn whether or not they qualify. Those who qualify must receive a pre-approval letter to schedule the burial.

If veterans and their families prefer burial in a private cemetery, the VA offers a burial allowance. Veterans who received disability compensation before their deaths can receive the burial allowance, which can be applied to the cost of funeral expenses at the burial site chosen by the decedent or their survivors.

Whether veterans choose burial in a veterans’ cemetery or a private cemetery, they can receive military funeral honors and memorial items. The memorial items include headstones, markers, medallions, a burial flag, and a presidential memorial certificate. This benefit ensures that families do not have to choose between honoring the decedent’s service of our country and a private burial.

Additionally, survivors of veterans may qualify for the same death benefits from the VA as do the veterans themselves. Eligibility is similar for survivors as it is for veterans. Survivors are eligible if the decedent was receiving VA pension, disability compensation, had an open claim for disability or pension, or died while receiving VA care.

Veterans and their survivors can expect to receive all of these benefits so long as the decedent was not dishonorably discharged. A dishonorable discharge makes veterans and their surviving families ineligible for all benefits they would otherwise receive.

Life Insurance

In addition to qualifying for death benefits, veterans may also be eligible for life insurance through the VA. Active Duty and Ready Reserve are automatically enrolled in Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI). This plan offers low-cost coverage to eligible service members. Full-time coverage is also available for members of the Ready Reserve or National Guard in nonpay status who are scheduled for twelve periods of active training each year and are drilling for points. The policy covers up to $400,000 and gives veterans 120 days of coverage at no cost from the date they leave the military. Veterans who leave the military totally disabled also receive an extension of coverage for up to two years.

For veterans who have left the military, Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) may allow them to keep their life insurance coverage so long as they continue to pay the premiums. Premiums are determined by age and the amount of coverage being purchased. VGLI offers coverage between $10,000 and $400,000 in term life insurance, the amount of which is determined by how much SGLI coverage the decedent had when they left the military. Veterans must apply for VGLI within one year and 120 days of leaving the military.

The Department of Defense sponsors and subsidizes the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) program that pays up to fifty-five percent of a veteran’s retired pay to their eligible beneficiary upon their death. For those who served in Reserve Components, the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan (RCSBP) was created so that they could bequeath an annuity benefit. This annuity, which is a percentage of the decedent’s retired pay, is paid monthly for the lifetime of the decedent’s beneficiary.

No matter how a veteran has served or the duration of their tenure in the United States Military, there are benefits available to their survivors upon their death. Contact the VA to inquire about eligibility. These benefits and services can help survivors while honoring veterans’ service.

If the decedent had financial accounts with USAA, PenFed, Navy Federal Credit Union, or other military-affiliated financial institutions, these entities may have additional life insurance or other accounts that belong to the estate, or the beneficiaries named in the policies.


Veteran benefits vary widely. Survivors are eligible for benefits that range from physical items to burial options to monetary payouts. It’s important to understand the potential benefits and options survivors can claim from Veterans Affairs.

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