From eligibility to future trends, experts provided insight on veteran burial benefits during a special webinar series hosted by the Military Officers Association of America last week.
Experts from the National Cemetery Administration and Arlington National Cemetery led the webinar discussion on VA Burial Benefits last week.
Lawrence Provost, program analyst and outreach engagement for the National Cemetery Administration, said their goal is for nearly every veteran to be within 75 miles of a national cemetery.
"We want to make sure there'a an interment option for veterans and their spouses in 75 miles," he said. "We're working very hard toward that goal. The goal is to have 95 percent of veterans and their spouses to have an interment option within 75 miles and we're at 91 percent."
The administration oversees 135 cemeteries nationwide. The most active cemeteries are in California, Florida, New York, Minnesota and Missouri.
Veterans are entitled to several burial and memorial benefits at no cost to families, Provost said.
Those include the gravesite, an upright headstone and perpetual care of the gravesite.
The most popular requested memorial benefits are the Bronze Medallion, which is affixed to an existing privately purchased headstone or marker to signify the deceased's status as a veteran, and the Presidential Memorial certificate, signed by whomever is the current president. There is no limit on the number of Presidential Memorial certificates, so families can request letters from future presidents, but not past presidents.
Provost said he envisions a future where a visitor can use a smartphone or other technology to scan a headstone to learn about that veterans service. The goal is to connect the public to veterans, he said.
At Arlington Cemetery, there are typically about 160 services a week, said. Maj. Shannon Way, strategic planner for the cemetery.
Space limitations restrict burial in Arlington Cemetery to honorably discharged members only. There is more space available for inurnment for a wider range of honorably discharged veterans.
The cemetery is prohibited by law from accepting reservations, so eligibility is determined at the time of need. Officials believe the cemetery will reach full capacity within the next 25 years. There are currently about 27 funerals per day there.
In March, MOAA and other military and veteran service organizations testified before Congress on the issue. Congress directed the Army to study options to keep Arlington National Cemetery an active military cemetery for years to come, which would include adding space or limiting burial to those injured or killed in combat, held as prisoners of war, or who receive certain valor awards.
The webinar was hosted by MOAA as a way to empower its members, as well as the broader military audience.
Brian Anderson, director of MOAA's Career Transition & Member Services and a retired Air Force colonel, said webinars cover a variety of topics including military benefits, transition issues, veteran and survival services and financial planning. The VA Burial Benefits webinar was one of the most popular events this year, he said.
Anderson said he hopes participants learn about the topics, but also feel empowered to cause change in policies, when necessary.
The next webinar will discuss non-traditional career opportunities for retired military. The webinar, set for July 18, will feature representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.