San Diego, California

Veterans Funeral Benefits and San Diego

For all its world-class beaches, trend-setting theaters, partying USD students, and, more recently, bio-tech firms, San Diego remains best known as a military town, specifically, a Navy town.

San Diego Bay is a so-called Navy "megaport" -- a third of the US Navy's Pacific Fleet is homeported in San Diego. From the submarine base below Point Loma to the Naval Air Station at North Island, the amphibious base at Coronado, the "Broadway complex" at the foot of downtown, the 32nd Street main base, the Navy hospital near Balboa Park, the Marine Recruit Depot on Point Loma to the former Top Gun school at Miramar -- now a Marine facility -- San Diego oozes Navy. San Diego County is home to the nation's largest Marine amphibious training base at Camp Pendleton, a weapons station at Fallbrook, and an air facility at El Centro, a town better known as the birthplace of Cher.

Besides uniformed personnel figured at 95,000 and dependents that boost the number to 175,000, San Diego County is home to more retired military personnel than any other county in the nation. They and their families are entitled to benefits.

Benefits extend to individuals who served full-time with the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard, or as commissioned officers of the Public Health Service, Environmental Science Services Administration or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or its previous version, the Coast and Geodetic Survey.

Interment at the beautiful Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery [ ] on the spine of Point Loma peninsula is limited to cremated remains. Veterans from the Mexican War, Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, world wars through to Persian Gulf wars are buried there. Full-casket burials are possible at Riverside National Cemetery on Van Buren Boulevard in Riverside, in Riverside County.

A second national cemetery in San Diego County was dedicated Jan. 30, 2010. The long-awaited groundbreaking for Miramar National Cemetery marks an additional 313 acres for gravesite and columbarium development. The cemetery, at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, former site of the Navy's Top Gun school, is expected to accommodate 235,000 veterans when completed. The cemetery is set on wildlife habitat that is home to the endangered California gnatcatcher and includes vernal pools populated by fairy shrimp.

"Offering more burial options for veterans in Southern California is a top priority," Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki said at the dedication ceremony.

The state of California operates Northern California Veterans Cemetery [ ] way up near Redding; families would need to bear the cost of transportation to this cemetery, although it's worth asking a VA rep if some transport costs are reimbursable.

Among services and benefits provided at national cemeteries are: opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, government headstone or marker, burial flag, and Presidential Memorial Certificate -- all at no cost to the family. Some veterans may be eligible for burial allowances. Cremated remains are buried or interred in national cemeteries in the same manner and with the same honors as casketed remains.

Regardless of cemetery -- and your government offers kindly advice for dealing with private cemeteries -- a government headstone or a grave marker and a burial flag can be provided at no cost. As with all such things, certain fine-print points apply to headstones and markers: Service after Sept. 7, 1980, must be for a minimum of 24 consecutive months unless special circumstances apply, that is, the individual is killed on active duty. National Guard or Reserves personnel with limited active duty are not eligible unless special circumstances apply, that is, the individual is killed on active duty or while in training. Persons with 20 years service in National Guard or Reserves who are eligible for retirement pay are eligible for headstone or marker (supply a copy of the Reserve Retirement Eligibility Benefits Letter). Active-duty service while with National Guard or Reserves also establishes eligibility. Applications take 30 to 60 days to process. Only eligible veterans, not family members, are entitled to government-provided headstones or markers.

The government also provides burial flags for honorably discharged vets. Eligibility covers: wartime veterans, vets who died on active duty after May 27, 1941; vets who served after Jan. 31, 1955; peacetime vets discharged before June 27, 1950; persons who served in the organized military forces of the Commonwealth of the Philippines while in the U.S. armed forces who died after April 25, 1951, and certain former members of the select reserves. Burial flags go to next of kin. If no next of kin exist, a friend may apply. Families of vets buried in cemeteries that have Avenues of Flags may donate the flag for display on patriotic holidays. Burial flags are made of cotton that can be easily damaged by weather. They are not suitable for outdoor display.

Any family requesting military funeral honors for an eligible veteran is entitled by law to receive the ceremony. The ceremony includes a detail of at least two uniformed military members, folding and presentation of the burial flag, and playing of taps -- though taps might be a recording played on a so-called digital bugle because vets eligible for funeral honors die at a daily rate of 3-to-1 to the military's available buglers. The VA has provided funeral homes with "honors kits," information and forms required to request a funeral with honors. Funeral directors can coordinate necessary steps with the VA's area coordinator to ensure an eligible veteran receives funeral honors.

The Navy provides burial at sea and remains scattering from USN vessels. Active-duty personnel, honorably discharged or retired, civilian marine personnel of the Military Sealift Command, and dependent family of active-duty personnel are eligible. Eligible individuals should make known their desire for such disposition in writing; vets will be surprised to learn the Navy has a form for this. Burial at sea of casketed or cremated remains is performed during deployment, thus family members cannot attend. San Diego is California's point of embarkation.

Beyond benefits for a vet's disposition, the government provides benefits to survivors. Burial allowances are partial reimbursement for the eligible vet's funeral and burial expenses. The VA pays up to $2,000 on expenses incurred for a veteran who died of a service-related cause on or after Sept. 11, 2001. The amount is $1,500 for deaths before Sept. 10, 2001. All or some transportation costs for vets buried in national cemeteries can be reimbursed. If cause of death is not service-related, payments are allotted in two versions: funeral and burial expense, and plot interment allowance. Nonservice-related deaths are reimbursable at a rate of $300 for funeral and burial expenses, and $300 plot-interment allowance. If the vet died at a VA hospital or a VA-contracted nursing home, some or all transportation costs may be reimbursed. Of course, conditions exist.

Other survivor benefits include death pensions, that is, benefits paid to eligible dependents of deceased wartime veterans, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, that is, a monthly benefit to eligible survivors, and Parents' Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, that is, an income-based monthly benefit to the parent or parents of military service members or veterans. Education benefits are available for deceased veterans' children. Special benefits are available to veterans' children age 14 or older who have physical or mental disabilities. Medical benefits are available. Home-loan guaranties are available, even no-fee passports are offered to veterans' survivors.