More than 4 million veterans and their families have been honored through burial at one of the 136 national cemeteries across the U.S. Along with 33 soldiers' lots and monuments, these locations serve as national memorials for all U.S. veterans from every war and conflict.
The practice of hallowed burial for veterans originated during the Civil War. To account for the extraordinary number of casualties, hasty wartime burials were frequently conducted on or near the battlefield, often far from the fallen soldier’s home. To honor the many fallen Union soldiers, the “Act to Establish and Protect National Cemeteries” was passed in 1867. The law ensured several cemeteries across the nation were created and given proper enclosures, markers for each gravesite, and a superintendent to care for the space.
[RELATED: Read MOAA's Military Burial Guide]
Today, this undertaking has evolved to include burial benefits for each eligible veteran, managed by the VA National Cemetery Administration (NCA). Each gravesite at any of the 136 locations includes a headstone or marker, a burial flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate, along with grave care at no cost to the family. Certain families even qualify for a VA burial allowance to assist with funeral expenses.
Eligibility requirements for burial at an NCA location accommodate veterans from the five armed forces, reserve components, NOAA, USPHS, the Merchant Marines, and others. Family members are also entitled to share the veteran’s benefit, even if they predecease the veteran.
With more than 22 million living veterans today, the NCA continues to evolve to meet emerging needs. Under Secretary of Memorial Affairs Randy Reeves, a MOAA member, works diligently to maintain the cemeteries as national shrines and ensure dignified services to honor veterans and their families. “VA offers preneed eligibility determinations to encourage veterans and their families to plan in advance to use VA burial benefits they have earned and deserve. This helps reduce the stress experienced at a most difficult time.”
The VA budget for FY 2020 includes $329 million to fund the current cemeteries, along with the activation of eight new cemeteries by next year. The new cemeteries will improve burial access for veterans residing in rural areas, specifically in Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Maine, Utah, and Wisconsin. The funding will also be used to provide for almost 140,000 internments, enhanced service to the NCA scheduling office to reduce wait times, and provide legacy programs to ensure “No Veteran Ever Dies” through digital memorialization efforts.
Cemeteries across the nation continue to increase community awareness of veterans’ service and sacrifice. Some of the largest cemeteries include locations in Calverton, N.Y.; Elwood, Ill.; Riverside, Calif.; Fort Custer, Mich.; Quantico, Va.; and Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas.Learn more here: National Cemetery Administration FAQ