A new program helping survivors pay for funeral expenses for coronavirus-connected deaths has led to questions for the VA … and a federal warning to beware of scammers.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will provide up to $9,000 in expenses toward a funeral for a loved one whose death certificate attributes their passing to COVID-19, according to a FEMA webpage outlining the benefit. These costs could cover, but are not limited to, a casket or urn, officiant services, marker or headstone, and other examples provided on FEMA’s website.
Many of these costs are already covered by the VA, but the department has received enough questions from family members and funeral homes to release its own details on the FEMA benefit. Some veteran-specific points to consider:
- Family members should not submit claims to FEMA for services provided at no cost by the VA. This would include a headstone at a VA national ceremony, for example, as well as other parts of the VA burial benefit.
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- Family members can contact FEMA for assistance covering costs that are not covered by the VA, such as funeral home fees.
- No VA-specific paperwork is required to claim the FEMA benefit.
Beware of Scams
FEMA has issued a “Fraud Alert” on its website, noting reports of scammers contacting mourners and offering to register them for funeral assistance. If you are concerned about fraud, keep these points in mind as you navigate the process:
- FEMA will not contact anyone until that individual has reached out to FEMA or applied for assistance. If you’re contacted by an individual claiming to be from FEMA and have not reached out, hang up and call the FEMA Helpline (800-621-3362) or the National Center for Fraud Hotline (866-720-5721).
- A third party cannot apply for burial assistance on your behalf. You must call FEMA (844-684-6333) between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Eastern on a weekday to begin the application process; do not provide personal information to anyone offering assistance outside of FEMA.
- Unlike other benefits programs, you can register for this assistance only via telephone. Beware of emails or online forms requesting your data in exchange for aid. You may be asked to submit documents via an online portal at gov after the initial phone call, but you’ll also be able to do so via fax or regular mail.
FEMA received more than 1 million calls shortly after the program’s launch, CBS News reported, and warns that high call volume could continue and callers could receive a busy signal. The agency maintains a list of answers to frequently asked questions about the benefit at this link.