VA funeral charges
October 22, 2006 7:48 PM   Subscribe

My father-in-law who's a Korean War vet has full VA benefits. Still is there anything I need to look out for so as not to get shafted by funeral/cremation companies?

Short story is my father-in-law, a U.S. Army veteran of the Korean War, died a couple of days ago. The whole process of setting up his funeral and cremation is really new to us.

I don't want to blindly assume that the Veterans Administration will cover it all. I've heard a lot of horror stories about the funeral industry, so I'm concerned about getting stuck with charges, services, etc that the VA will not cover, and the funeral homes requiring to turn over things like -our- SS number and other info that could later be used by a collection agency.

For what it's worth, we're dealing with a funeral home in Houston... it was on a list given to us by the hospital where he died, and they said there was no government sponsored funeral home.

My wife says the funeral home she picked is nice, almost too nice, so she's a little on guard.

So has anyone else gone through this?
posted by rolypolyman to Grab Bag (11 answers total)
Just remember that a lot of funeral homes are essentially run like car dealerships. Their goal in every interaction with you is to keep you sufficiently emotional and unbalanced so as to maximize the amount of money they can extract.

If they start trying to upgrade you as to the casket (especially stuff like expensive liners or sealing it airtight) or if you feel emotionally manipulated at all you should probably just walk away.
posted by Riemann at 7:51 PM on October 22, 2006

But the point is moot if the VA will pay for it all.
posted by rolypolyman at 7:58 PM on October 22, 2006

Here is the faq on funeral benefits for vetrans. Doesn't look like they pay for much.
posted by Wolfie at 8:14 PM on October 22, 2006

Yeah, I have several relatives who served in Vietnam (and the misses still has relatives alive from WWII and Korea) and from them it seems VA benefits amount to a couple hundred bucks for funerals.
posted by Riemann at 8:30 PM on October 22, 2006

I checked out that FAQ and it looks like we're getting $300, if I'm reading it right. Those benefits for a combat veteran are really apalling... but oh well, that's the hand we're dealt.
posted by rolypolyman at 8:40 PM on October 22, 2006

What Riemann said--be as firm as you can with the funeral people and have someone with you who won't let their emotions get in the way.

I'm sorry for your loss.
posted by brujita at 9:50 PM on October 22, 2006

You are also entitled to a free bronze marker for the gravesite. It takes a few months, but it is a very nice way to memorialize your father in law's service. My Dad was also a Korean Vet. When he passed we had the marker made withhis service info and a Masonic emplem.
posted by Gungho at 4:21 AM on October 23, 2006

Both the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion have service officers who would be happy to assist you through this process (membership not required). This is the VFW info for Texas: TEXAS
Randy Collins
VFW Department Service Officer
One Veterans Plaza
701 Clay Street
Waco, TX 76799
Phone: 254 299-9959
FAX: 254 299-9970
posted by KneeDeep at 6:35 AM on October 23, 2006

I would suggest that you call the VA and/or go into a local office.

The benefits are generally: a small amount of money, a flag to drape the casket, a burial marker if you want it, burial in a national cemetery if you want it. The VA will definitely not cover it all.

As a general matter the funeral home should itemize their costs and explain what each one is for. Some expenses you will be able to alter, reduce or decline.
posted by jellicle at 6:49 AM on October 23, 2006

I'm very sorry for the loss of your father in law and my sympathies to your family.

I'm an apprentice at a funeral home going through mortuary school. Yes, what they're asking for is legit.

Unfortunately too many people have biases based on what they've heard in the news or movies. As long as the director is not a pushy sales person and genuinely cares for helping your family, then you're in good hands. And remember - always ask questions! If you're not happy, then you need to let the director know.

Here's a link to the VA website that explains benefits more. Do not hesitate to ask the director for further help with explaining these benefits. That's what their service charge pays for:

As long as your father in law was discharged from the military under conditions other than dishonorable, your family has the right to receive a flag, burial of the cremated remains in a national cemetery, a headstone and a Presidential Memorial Certificate. The VA will pay $1500 for burial reimbursement if the death was service related. $300 will be paid for burial and funeral expense for "Veterans who were eligible to receive a pension or compensation or would have been entitled to compensation but for receipt of military retirement pay. Eligibility also may be established when death occurs in a VA facility, a nursing home under VA contract or a state nursing home."

"VA will pay a $150 plot allowance when a veteran is not buried in a cemetery that is under U.S. government jurisdiction." For more information on monetary benefits, call 1-800-827-1000.

Also, if your wife's mother (your father in laws wife) is alive, she is entitled to receive a one time payment from Social Security for $255. There is a bit of information that the Social Security office needs for this. Ask your funeral director for Social Security form # SSA-721 for more details. You can also call 1-800-772-1213 to talk to a Social Security representative for help.

Also, if anyone is uncertain about any funeral home in their area, then stop by and ask for a tour. Talk to the directors and get a feel for how you're treated. You have the right to be treated with respect.

Our society constantly rips on the funeral industry which is understandable. Public education starts with the funeral director and their involvement with the community. Funeral homes should have an expansive library with topics from the DIY funerals to simple cremations, so everyone’s final wishes are thoroughly explored. If the funeral home does not have any books, then your local library should.

rolypolyman, I don’t mean to turn your post into my soapbox. I hope there’s some information in my reply that you find helpful. The funeral industry is a close knit bunch, and we realize the key to changing people’s stereotypes of us is through public education. Those of us who have a soft spot in our hearts for helping grieving families will go above and beyond for you. We will miss holiday dinners and other personal matters just so we can make things right for your family. Any director who would not do just that certainly does not belong in the business.
posted by echolex at 7:25 AM on October 23, 2006 [1 favorite]

In my father's case (he was a WWII vet), the VA paid a small amount of money ($450, I think), provided a headstone, and provided two soldiers and a flag to do a graveside flag ceremony, which was quite nice, actually. He already owned a plot.

My father died in a VA hospital, and they were very helpful. I would definitely talk to the local VA and have them clear up questions.

You'll probably be amazed at how expensive even the most affordable caskets are. Don't let your emotions get carried away with you and buy more than your can afford. And best of luck with all of it. It's a sad and confusing thing.
posted by wheat at 2:00 PM on October 23, 2006

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