The end of National Veterans and Military Families Month marks an ideal time to reflect on the service and sacrifice of servicemembers and their family members. Across the country, people will be visiting gravesites of loved ones who once donned the uniform.
National cemeteries serve as the final resting place for millions of servicemembers and veterans and their spouses. What started as 14 cemeteries for the casualties of the Civil War have grown to a network of nearly 140 cemeteries across 40 states and Puerto Rico. More are in the planning stages.
Nearly every state also runs its own veterans cemetery, and many states have more than one. While the VA often helps fund these cemeteries, the state government is solely responsible for their operations and eligibility criteria.
The VA takes great pride in the burial opportunities and services it provides. The National Cemetery Administration (NCA) consistently ranks at the top of the American Customer Satisfaction Index, an independent study of customer satisfaction among corporations and federal agencies.
For eligible veterans, the VA provides the gravesite, grave liner, government headstone or marker, U.S. burial flag, Presidential Memorial Certificate, and perpetual care of the gravesite at no cost to the family. They also open and close the grave.
The NCA's strategic mission is to provide opportunities for dignified burials of veterans within 75 miles of 96 percent of the veteran population. It's a big task, but it's on track to meet that goal by opening new cemeteries and adapting to new burial preferences. For example, the first burials at the new Pikes Peak National Cemetery took place during the first week of November, and the Black Hills National Cemetery is expanding by 200 acres in accordance with legislation passed in May.
MOAA has heard from our members about the importance of having these national veterans' cemeteries both geographically accessible and maintained with the same care and custom as some of the country's more famous cemeteries.
Capacity is an ongoing concern as well. Plots at VA national cemeteries cannot be reserved in advance, and space at a handful of cemeteries is starting to fill up too quickly. Finite burial space is an age-old issue, so it's something we will have to continue monitoring.
If you're curious about VA burial benefits, cemetery locations, or something else related to veterans' cemeteries, take some time to explore the NCA website.