Congress has designated around 20,000 acres for national cemeteries, sacred spaces that to date have witnessed around 4 million burials. (This does not include overseas areas maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission, which includes 25 permanent American military cemeteries.) Yet of the 134 national cemeteries and 33 other managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), over 90 are closed to new interments or are restricted to cremated remains.
Veterans and their families must cover the costs of a coffin and the funeral. While the VA today covers the cost of a coffin or urn for indigent veterans under the Dignified Burial and other Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2012, it only does so if the veteran is buried in a national—not state—cemetery.
Only 40 of the 50 states (and Puerto Rico) have national cemeteries, and many of these are closed to new interments due to space constraints. The VA will not pay for a veteran’s burial in a local state cemetery, but will pay to transport the body to a faraway national cemetery. Sadly, this often makes it impossible for the family of the deceased to visit the grave, and even to attend the burial.