The death of a beloved veteran spouse is one of the hardest things family members will ever face. The grief can be overwhelming, and there are many decisions to make while suffering from the loss. There are military honors and services which can be rendered by Veterans Affairs, plus benefits to help take some of the burden off those left behind.
It may seem confusing at first but experts are out there, ready to help surviving spouses and children of military veterans understand what they need to do in this somber time. So let’s review what to do when a veteran dies.
Surviving Spouse’s Checklist for Death of a Retired Veteran
This section will cover the essential checklist items for surviving spouses in the unfortunate event of a retired veteran’s demise.
Report to the Department of Defense
When a retired veteran passes, their military retired pay will end on that date. So it is important to let the Department of Defense know as soon as possible, to avoid any overpayments. In some cases, the government may have to request a refund for payment amounts made after the date of the veteran’s demise. That could lead to an unexpected economic hardship, so don’t delay contacting them. And remember, survivor benefits will also begin once they are notified.
Notifications of a veteran’s death should be made immediately to the DoD at 1-800-321-1080. You will need the veteran’s Social Security Number (SSN) to make the report.
Organize your documents
Gather the various documents and military service information you’re going to need, and create a clearly-marked, well-organized file to keep it all in. Be sure to let trusted family members know what these documents are for, and where to find them, if needed.
Items to be kept in this file should include:
- Life insurance information
- Veteran’s Social Security Number card
- Proof of veteran’s military service (such as DD Form 214)
- Veterans Affairs claims information, if any
- Certified copies of marriage license
- Children(s) birth certificate
- Detailed information related to any prior marriages of the veteran
- Certified copy of veteran’s death certificate
Obtain the Veteran’s DD Form 214 or NGB-22
For proof of military service, you’ll need a copy of the veteran’s DD Form 214, Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, or for Guard members their NGB-22, Report of Separation and Military Service, or other notice of separation.
The DD Form 214 has been around since the 1950s, so most separated Active Duty veterans should have one. Next of kin family members who cannot find this document may order a copy from the National Personnel Records Center. This is done by mailing a Standard Form 180, Request Pertaining to Military Records, to the National Personnel Records Center at:
National Personnel Records Center
1 Archives Drive
St. Louis, Missouri 63138
For more assistance with ordering the DD Form 214, you may also call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at 800-535-1117, or get in touch with any local veterans agency.
To obtain an NGB-22, you’ll need to contact the state headquarters respective branch where service was completed. Contact information for each state is available on the National Guard website.
Call a Funeral Director
The funeral director will manage many of the logistics for your family. They will need copies of the veteran’s DD Form 214 or other proof of service, any VA claims information, and their Social Security Number. They can help you understand which burial entitlements the VA may offer, as well as what, if any, allowances will be paid by Social Security.
The director can also order an American flag to be used during the funeral, for draping the veteran’s casket. This is a time-honored tradition and can be done in three ways, depending on the desires of the family. If the casket is closed, the funeral flag will drape it. If the casket is half opened for viewing, the flag will be folded to drape the lower half. For an open casket, the flag will be folded into a triangle and placed above the left shoulder of the veteran.
Let your director know if you wish to request a burial at a National Cemetery. Their scheduling office may be reached at 1-800-535-1117.
Arrange for a religious services representative
If you have a church pastor or other faith leader you’d like to conduct the funeral, let them know the details of how you would like them to perform these services. This person can conduct the formal eulogy, guide prayers, and help facilitate guests to attend any post-funeral services, be it burial, entombment, the scattering of ashes, or any other memorial reception you choose to arrange. Having an experienced religious services conductor will ensure the departed is given the loving, personalized honors they deserve.
Contact the Veterans of Foreign Wars, if applicable
The funeral director should manage all functions related to contacting the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Commander. In fact, they should already possess a kit with all state contact information to aid them in arranging funeral honors. In the unlikely event that your director does not have this information, they may call 1-877-MIL-HONR. For more information about funeral honors for veterans, directors and members of the public are welcome to visit the official government website: www.militaryfuneralhonors.osd.mil
Report the death to the Social Security office
This is another instance where the funeral home should be involved, to report the veteran’s death to the Social Security office. They will need the Social Security Number to do this. Otherwise, the office can be contacted directly at 1-800-772-1213 (or via TTY 1-800-325-0778) to speak to a representative immediately.
Contact your insurance agent
If the veteran had life insurance though a VA program, you will need to file a claim through that service.
Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) and Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) claims are done by filling out the SGLV 8283, Claim for Death Benefits, and submitting to the Office of Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (OSGLI).
Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) claims are done using the SGLV 8283A, Claim for Family Coverage Death Benefits.
Every branch of military service has a Casualty Assistance Office to help with submitting these forms to the Office of Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (OSGLI).
The address for the OSGLI is:
Office of Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance
PO Box 70173
Philadelphia, PA 19176-9912
All commercial insurance agents will need to be contacted through your local representative. If the policy information cannot be located, a state insurance commissioner may be able to help you track down which life insurance company the veteran is covered by.
Post the Obituary
It is always suitable to let others know about the death of any veteran through a public obituary. This also informs those who might wish to attend services. If you want to reach out to old military colleagues but are not sure how to reach them, the National Archives Veterans’ Records Search offers a wide variety of searchable historical records going all the way back to the American Revolutionary War era.
When a Veteran Dies, What Does Their Spouse Have to Do?
If your are not working with a funeral director or your family wishes to do some parts of the arrangements, you can request a Military Funeral and Honor Guard through the VA, or through many other organizations which are happy to assist with this service. These include:
- Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)
- Disabled American Veterans (DAV)
- Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA)
- American Legion
They can also help arrange to have two or possibly more uniformed members present from the branch of service the veteran served in. This is an especially nice way to honor and pay tribute to their service. Many local military recruiters, military installations, and ROTC units are able to provide additional Honor Guard support for these solemn funerals, and set up the necessary audio equipment for the playing of Taps.
Ask your funeral director about using a VA Form 40-1330, Claim for Standard Government Headstone or Marker if you would like to request a government-furnished headstone or marker. These can be given at no cost for eligible veterans who died on or after Nov. 1, 1990, but you will need to apply and meet eligibility requirements.
Spouses should also seek out grief support to help through the tough times ahead. You may wish to reach out to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors at 1-800-959-TAPS (8277). They have personnel available to help at all hours, and they offer resources at no cost.
What to Do with the VA When a Veteran Dies
The loss of a veteran spouse can often lead to economic hardships for surviving spouses. It’s very important to call Veterans Affairs promptly, in order to begin the submission of an application for benefits. Benefits cannot begin until requested.
Call the VA at 1-(800) 827-1000, or go to their website at www.vba.va.gov/survivors to get started and to learn which benefits you may be eligible for. If you’d rather deal with someone in a face-to-face setting, your regional Veterans Benefits Administration Office can set you up with an appointment to meet with a representative.
If the veteran was using any VA doctor-prescribed equipment on loan, such as a wheelchair, adaptive auto equipment, computer access tools, medical bed, hearing aids, or other temporarily-issued assistive technology items, your local VA hospital’s Prosthetic Department can schedule a pick up of these items directly from your home.
Also talk with the VA if your veteran spouse received any Aid and Attendance pension benefit. The VA Aid & Attendance and Housebound benefit is designed to offer supplemental payments for qualified retirees who need help with activities or are housebound. Surviving spouses may qualify for a continuation of this important financial benefit.
Burial expenses are a large out-of-pocket expense, but the VA can often help defray these costs. Your funeral director can tell you more.
When a veteran dies, you are not alone. We hope the above information will help connect you to all the resources available to you during this time of grief, so you can arrange the proper services for the departed and prepare, economically and emotionally, for your future.