By Jonathan Kaupanger
You’re gonna die. Unless you believe stories like the one where Walt Disney’s head was cryogenically frozen, only to be brought back when science allows him to live again. Nope. He was cremated and his ashes are in Glendale, CA. Baseball player (and veteran) Ted Williams, even though his will stated he was to be cremated, is frozen though and waiting.
For me, a funeral isn’t a funeral unless it rivals the one in the 1959 movie “Imitation of Life.” Mahalia Jackson belting out “Trouble of the World,” that’s a funeral, and I’ve stolen several ideas from the movie for my own memorial service.
“When you make funeral arrangements, at the time of death, there are 132 tasks involved,” said Donna Austin, an Army veteran and a licensed mortician in the Washington, DC area.
“So you’re sitting there and everything is so surreal, and your head is swimming because you can’t believe that the person is gone and now you have to move forward to get all these things done, so pre-planning takes the stress out of having to sit there at the time of death.”
The National Cemetery Administration branch of the VA can help with a couple of the 132 burial tasks right now with its Pre-Need Burial Eligibility Determination program. The Pre-Needs program was started to help veterans and their family members plan ahead to use their VA Burial Benefits, eliminate delays and reduce stress on family members.
Gravesites in any of the 135 national cemeteries can’t be reserved in advanced, but the eligibility determination process can happen now so there’s one less thing your loved ones will have to sort out after you are gone.
Before you start planning, you should get some paperwork together. “Often time people are not even aware of a DD-214,” said Austin. “I’ve had people ask me ‘well, what is that?’ So the veteran needs to make the family aware of the DD-214 and if he doesn’t have it, then they need to order it.” Ordering the required documentation is fairly easy. The VA provides links for this on the main Pre-Needs webpage, including the application for pre-need determination.
Once you or family member are found eligible, you are entitled to burial in any open VA national cemetery, including opening and closing of the grave, a government-furnished grave liner, perpetual care of the gravesite, a government—furnished upright headstone or flat marker or niche cover for remains that are cremated. The veteran is also eligible for a burial flag and Presidential Memorial Certificate.
“But as far as a full casket burial, they need to know the requirements,” Austin said. “I have people come to me and say, ‘my dad wants to go to Arlington,’ but he only served two years in the military, so no, he can’t go to Arlington. These are the things they need to understand, so that’s why they need to have a conversation.”
A full list of requirements can be found here, including information on burial allowances.
Listen to the entire interview here: