Military Retirement — Special Six-Part Series — Part 2 — Death Benefits

Here’s the second installment in our six part Military Pay series. Other posts are here:


In return for years of service, the military offers an array of benefits for retirees, including a pension adjusted every year for inflation, money for college, health-care coverage and more. These days the options for military retirement are even more complex than most any civilian plan. While some benefits are tiny, others are huge, and not everything happens automatically. If you’re retired, retiring or you have a client affected by these issues; will be running a special five part series this week…..

20-year Retirement

Here’s how the magic 20 years (or higher) Military Retirement system works. As you can see from previous discussions it is a defined benefit system. Military members don’t make a contribution. They perform their duty while receiving their legal pay and allowances, then, when requirements are met, they are eligible for a retirement annuity….


Death benefits

Regardless of a veteran’s status at death … active or retired, the Department of Veterans Affairs does not provide military funeral honors; the Defense Department does. However, the VA, active-duty military and many veterans groups pool their resources to provide financial help, practical assistance and military honors on such occasions.

The civilian funeral director handling the arrangements usually has forms to get VA burial benefits, plus Social Security and military entitlements. Funeral directors are usually familiar with requesting military honors from the nearest active duty base or installation. Most military bases maintain an Honor Guard program, usually staffed by military volunteers who travel at government expense to a veteran’s gravesite to render honors.

From personal experience I can state that when my parents (both veterans) passed away both were not inclined to make pre-arrangements regarding honors at their funerals. However we requested and wonderful folks from the US navy in Charleston, South Carolina responded to the call. A Navy chaplain conducted the graveside service and several honor guard personnel performed a flag ceremony. Don’t overlook this important resource; it’s something money can’t buy.

Basically, veterans who served on active duty and received anything other than a dishonorable discharge are entitled to:

  • Burial in a national cemetery
  • Government-provided headstone or marker
  • A US flag
    • Flags can be obtained through any VA regional office and most post offices
  • A Presidential Memorial Certificate

Here are some programs designed to honor deceased military veterans.

  • Financial aid:
    • For service-related death, the VA will pay up to $1,500 toward burial expenses for deaths on or before Sept. 10, 2001. For deaths on or after Sept. 11, 2001, the VA will pay $2,000.

    • For non-service-related deaths, the VA will pay up to $300 toward burial and funeral expenses and a $150 plot interment allowance for deaths before Dec. 1, 2001. The plot interment allowance is $300 for deaths on or after Dec. 1, 2001. If the death happened while the veteran was in a VA hospital or under contracted nursing-home care, some or all of the costs for transporting the deceased’s remains may be reimbursed.
  • The government provides free headstones and markers for veterans buried worldwide
  • and for eligible family members (spouses and dependent children) buried in national, military base or state veterans cemeteries.
  • Funeral honors: Honor guards are authorized for deceased retirees.
    • Living retirees are eligible to serve on such honor guards at the discretion of the military service secretary.
    • The Defense Department must provide, on request, at least two uniformed personnel and a bugler or a recording of “Taps” at every military funeral.
  • Whenever possible, the uniformed contingent comes from the deceased’s service branch.
    • Veterans organizations also may provide honor guards.
    • The funeral director normally handles the details of getting an honor guard.
    • An adjutant general’s office, duty officer or commander’s office at a local installation or reserve training center also can provide this service.

  • Veterans should get their military records in order as part of normal estate planning.
    • Proof of service is needed for
      • burial in a national cemetery
      • an honor guard
      • burial benefits.

  • Interment in Arlington National Cemetery: The following are eligible for burial in Arlington National Cemetery, as long as their last period of active duty ended honorably. Interment may be for casket or cremated remains.
    • Any active-duty member of the armed forces (except those serving on active duty for training only)
    • Any veteran retired from active military service.
    • Any veteran retired from the reserves who served a period of active duty (other than for training) and is drawing retired pay, upon reaching age 60.
    • Any service member separated honorably before Oct. 1, 1949, for medical reasons and was rated at 30 percent or greater disabled at time of discharge.
    • Any former service member who has been awarded the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross (Navy Cross or Air Force Cross), Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star or Purple Heart.
    • The president of the United States or any former president of the United States
    • Any former member of the armed forces who served on active duty (other than for training) and who held any of the following positions:
      • An elective office of the U.S. government, Office of the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court or of an associate justice; an office listed, at the time the person held the position, in 5 USC 5312 or 5313 (Levels I and II of the Executive Schedule); the chief of a mission who was at any time during his or her tenure considered to be in Class I under the provisions of Section 411, Act of 13 August 1946, 60 Stat. 1002, as amended (22 USC 866) or as listed in State Department memorandum dated March 21, 1988.

    • Any former prisoner of war who served honorably in the active military, whose last period of service terminated honorably and who died on or after Nov. 30, 1993.
    • Spouses, widows or widowers, minor children, permanently dependent children and certain unmarried adult children of any of the above eligible veterans.
    • The widow or widower of a service member who is lost or buried at sea or officially determined to be missing in action, interred in a U.S. military cemetery overseas maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission or interred in Arlington National Cemetery as part of a group burial.
    • The surviving spouse, minor child or permanently dependent child of any person already buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
    • The parents of a minor child or permanently dependent child whose remains, based on the eligibility of a parent, already are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. (A spouse divorced from the eligible person, or widowed and remarried, is not eligible)
    • A former service member in the same grave with a close relative, who already is buried and is the primary eligible person, provided certain conditions are met.

  • Interment in Arlington columbarium: The Arlington columbarium is available for the cremated remains of all honorably discharged veterans and their eligible spouses and dependent children.
    • The eligibility requirements for the columbarium basically are the same as those for burials in other national cemeteries.

  • Other national cemeteries: Military retirees, including those who retired from the reserves and National Guard, are eligible for burial in any of the cemeteries operated by VA in the United States and Puerto Rico and the 14 cemeteries operated by the National Park Service.
    • Also eligible are veterans who served on active duty and received discharges other than dishonorable, as well as reservists and members of the National Guard who served for 20 creditable years or more and were eligible for retirement pay.

There is no cost for a grave site, headstone or marker in a national cemetery, including those operated by the National Park Service. Gravesites cannot be reserved in advance.

For more information on veterans’ death benefits, see the VA’s site here:


As always remember that this site, although written by a retiree with substantial experience in the school of hard knocks, it is for personal, lay opinions and informational purposes only. If you have a legal question you should seek help from a legal professional. If you have questions involving current or future values of pensions you need an actuary or competent pension valuation expert. If your questions are tax-related, seek a competent tax advisor. In other cases, I recommend the base chaplain.


  1. I do a lot of group life insurance and from time to time talk with reservist who have what I think is called SGLI. Does that life insurance carry into retirement?
    .-= Michael´s last blog ..Adsense Earnings Update =-.

    • @Michael: Sorry i didn’t see this right away. A very good question and one not asked often enough. All military members, active and ready reserve, have the opportunity to carry SGLI (Serviceman’s Group Life Insurance). It’s not free, but it is very inexpensive, and it is a ‘delete option’ … a serviceman or woman has it unless it is declined in writing.

      SGLI does not carry into retirement. Members retiring or leaving the service prior to retirement have an opportunity to convert their SGLI to VLI (Veterans’ Group Life Insurance) if they wish.

      The authoritative sites are:
      and :

  2. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own weblog and was curious what all is required to get setup? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very web savvy so I’m not 100% certain. Any suggestions or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

    • @Elliott Fetterman: Hi Elliott. On the contrary, blogging is one of the cheapest ways to get into making money online and empowering your retirement (if you aren’t retirement age yet, sheer up, you’ll be there someday, if you are lucky). This is a100% free blueprint for blogging success I recommended some time back and still recommend highly. You can afford ‘free’. My only request is, don’t read it and ‘think about it’, read it, follow the steps and do something. “Over-thinking” is, hands down, the most serious mistake you can make. Godspeed;

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