Veteran’s Salute: National Cemeteries

By Guest Contributor September 15, 2008 18:54

By Frank Smart

Veterans and their family members are eligible for burial in national cemeteries, but most are unaware of this benefit.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (commonly known as the VA) operates 124 of these national shrines, and 84 are open for new burials. Twenty accept only cremated remains. Honorably discharged veterans or service members who die while on active duty are eligible.

Spouses and dependent children of veterans and active duty service members may also be eligible. VA benefits offered at no cost to families include grave site, grave liner, opening and closing of the grave, a headstone or marker, and perpetual care. Burial options differ by cemetery, but may include in-ground casket, or interment of cremated remains in a columbarium, in ground, or in a scatter garden.

The national cemeteries nearest to Tuolumne and Calaveras counties are the San Joaquin National Cemetery at Santa Nella, just off Interstate 5 near Los Banos, and the Sacramento Valley VA National Cemetery in Dixon, north of Fairfield on Highway 113.

The first national cemeteries were established in the wake of the Civil War, which claimed the lives of more than 600,000 soldiers. In 1862 Congress authorized President Lincoln to purchase “cemetery grounds” to bury those who died in the service of the country.

All honorably discharged veterans became eligible for burial in these “national shrines” in 1873. Now there are 136 national cemeteries and the National Cemetery Administration, established in 1998, is responsible for 120 of them. The National Park Service maintains 14 and the Department of the Army maintains two, including Arlington National Cemetery. Legislation passed by Congress in 1999 and 2003 called for 12 new national cemeteries. Some, including the one in Dixon, are complete.

Another VA benefit is inscribed headstones and markers for veterans’ graves. Active-duty service members, veterans, retired reservists and National Guard members are eligible for markers, which can be used at national, state veterans or private cemeteries. The markers can be shipped at no cost to veterans’ families anywhere in the world. Spouses and dependent children are eligible for a government marker only if they are buried in a national or state veterans’ cemetery. Flat markers are available in bronze, granite or marble. Upright markers come in granite or marble.

The defense department’s “Honoring Those Who Served” program calls for funeral directors to request military funeral honors on behalf of families of veterans being buried in national cemeteries. Veteran’s organizations may assist in providing the honor or color guard. Families of veterans being buried in local cemeteries can also have an honor or color guard present at the burial by contacting local veterans’ organizations.

An American flag to drape the coffin of a veteran is another available benefit. The flag is usually given to the next of kin following the ceremony, and the family may then choose to keep it or donate it to a national cemetery for the Avenue of Flags program.

Also available for families are Presidential Memorial Certificates inscribed with the veteran’s name and the President’s signature. Requests should be sent to: Presidential Memorial Certificates, Department of Veterans Affairs, 5109 Russell Rd., Quantico, VA., 22143-3906.

Most inquiries about these VA services can be answered by Beth Barnes or Michelle McMaster at the Tuolumne County Veterans Service Office, 105 East Hospital Road in Sonora, (209) 533-6280.

Information is also available on the Internet ( or by calling 1-800-827-1000.

© 2008, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Guest Contributor September 15, 2008 18:54
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