On April 13, 2015, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) published the Final Rule on reimbursement of caskets and urns used for the interment or inurnment of the remains of indigent veterans in VA cemeteries. To qualify for reimbursement, the following criteria must be met:
- Reimbursement is only available for veterans who die on or after January 10, 2014, and whose remains are interred or inurned in a national VA cemetery.
- Reimbursement will be made on any casket that is metal and any urn regardless of the materials of which it is made. However, the dollar amount of the reimbursement will be capped at the average price of a 20-gauge casket and the average price of a plastic urn. The VA has determined that the maximum reimbursement amounts for applications submitted in 2015 will be $1,967 for a casket and $172 for an urn.
- Applications for reimbursement may be submitted by an individual or a business. The director of the VA cemetery is required to visually inspect the casket or urn that is presented to determine that it matches the description of the burial receptacle listed on the invoice.
- To apply for reimbursement, the individual or business must submit VA Form 40-10088 and supporting documentation. A certification is required by the individual or business that, to the best of their knowledge, there are insufficient resources available to purchase the casket or urn. The applicant must also certify that they cannot locate the next-of-kin or that the next-of-kin is unwilling or unable to assume the cost of disposition for the deceased veteran.
NFDA, as the only funeral service association to comment on the regulations when they were proposed in July 2014, was instrumental in persuading the VA to revise and/or clarify several requirements in the proposed regulation which helped make it easier to obtain reimbursement under the Final Rule.
When the regulation was first proposed, a funeral home or family member seeking reimbursement would have been required to certify that that they could not identify a next-of-kin and that VA records do not show a next-of-kin. NFDA pointed out to the VA that funeral homes do not have access to VA records so the certification that was being mandated would be impossible in most cases. We also argued that the identity of the next-of-kin is often known, but locating their whereabouts is the problem.
The VA agreed with the logic of NFDA’s comments. In the Final Rule, it dropped the original requirement that the funeral home certify that there was no next-of-kin and that the VA records did not show a next-of-kin. Instead, under the Final Rule, all the funeral home has to certify is that it could not locate a next-of-kin after performing whatever search is required in the state for locating the person holding the right of disposition.
The VA also made another important clarification to the Final Rule based upon NFDA’s comments. NFDA pointed out that even when the next-of-kin can be located, they are often unwilling or unable to pay for the disposition costs. Accordingly, the VA revised the language in the Final Rule to allow reimbursement if the next-of-kin is unwilling or unable to assume financial responsibility for the veteran’s burial costs.
Another major concern for NFDA was that the proposed regulation appeared to limit reimbursement only to those cases where a 20-gauge steel casket is used for interment or a plastic urn is used for inurnment, The VA explained that this was not its intent, but that they could see how the regulation could be interpreted that way. So the Final Rule makes clear that any metal casket and any urn that is used qualifies for reimbursement, but that the dollar amount of reimbursement will be capped at the average price of a 20-gauge casket or a plastic urn.
The one issue where NFDA was not successful in changing the VA’s position concerns the plastic urn. NFDA argued in its comments that most families select a wooden, metal or ceramic urn and that plastic urns are rarely used. We felt it was inappropriate to use the plastic urn as the benchmark for reimbursement. The VA, after surveying VA cemetery personnel, disagreed and reported that a plastic urn, while not selected by many families, is an appropriate repository for use in a VA cemetery.
If a funeral home has provided a casket or urn for a veteran who died after January 10, 2014, and was interred or inurned in a VA cemetery, the funeral home may apply for reimbursement if it has not been paid for the casket or urn. The VA will use the 2015 reimbursement amounts of $1,967 for a casket and $172 for an urn even though the disposition took place in 2014.
NFDA members who have questions regarding this article may contact Scott Gilligan at 513-871-6332.