Handling a veteran’s affairs

5 min read

Steps to take if your loved one was a veteran

  • Notify the VA’s Office of Survivor Assistance, and potentially the Department of Defense if your loved one was retired from the armed forces.

  • Claim the special military survivor benefits and burial benefits you are entitled to.

  • Make decisions about the funeral, including whether to use free military honors provided by the VA.

  • Return any medical equipment issued to your loved one by the VA.

If your loved one served in the military, there are certain things to consider after they pass away. The paperwork and responsibilities involved are different from those for a civilian, and so you’ll want to make sure you take their veteran status into account when dealing with the aftermath of their passing. 

In addition to filing the will, settling the estate, and planning the funeral, you’ll also need to claim survivor benefits, notify the Office of Veteran’s Affairs (VA), and hunt down a few extra documents. 

The death of someone close to you is always difficult, and these decisions and tasks can be tricky, especially when you’re dealing with grief. Do not fret though, there are simple steps you can take to easily navigate the path ahead, and people who can help. Your first stop should be the VA, which often has a local branch that may even already be familiar with your loved one. 

Notifying the proper agencies

In order to take the necessary next steps in settling the person’s affairs, you’ll first have to report their death. You’ll need your loved one’s Social Security number and the date of their death when making these calls. You’ll first want to call the Veterans Affairs Office of Survivor Assistance and notify them of the death. 

If the person was retired from the armed forces, you’ll also need to call the Department of Defense to end their retirement payments. Doing this right away makes sure that you don’t accidentally spend a previously issued check and end up having to pay the department back. It’s also an important call because they’ll help you start preparing the paperwork for the next step in the process, claiming benefits. 

You will also want to look through the person’s paperwork and belongings for any other benefits or services they might have been enrolled in, such as G.I. life insurance. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service provides a list of all potential agencies handling these affairs.

Claiming benefits

After you’ve notified the relevant agencies, start gathering the necessary documents to claim survivor or spousal benefits. These will include: 

  • The VA Claim Number, if there is one

  • Social Security numbers for the veteran, their spouse, and any dependents

  • Proof of insurance policies

  • A certified copy of their service record, discharge, separation notice or DD-214

  • Marriage licenses, birth certificates of children, and any information about prior marriages (as well as proof of death or divorce)

  • An official death certificate, which you can get copies of from the funeral director

Once you have all this information, you can file for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. Which form you fill out will depend on the circumstances around the death of your loved one. You’ll also might be eligible for a Survivors Pension

There are, of course, other benefits that may be available such as home loans, educational assistance, and counseling services. Your local VA is an excellent resource for you during this time, and they’ll work closely with you to make sure everything is filed properly. 

Planning a veteran's funeral service

When beginning to plan the funeral ceremony, you’ll also want to file for burial expense benefits. If you’re working with a funeral director or church, they will be able to do most of the paperwork for you and make sure your loved one is honored with all the elements of a military burial, including a flag to drape over the casket and a trumpet performance of Taps. 

The sacrifices your loved one and your family made in service to this country will be honored and remembered by the nation as a whole.

If you’re planning on holding the funeral at a military cemetery, you can also request a “military funeral and honor guard.” Local military groups will provide your loved one with at least two uniformed branch representatives who will attend the funeral, act as pallbearers, and play Taps. 

Further considerations

It’s possible that your loved one was using medical equipment issued by the VA, like a wheelchair, hearing aids, or a prosthetic. If that’s the case, you need to arrange to have them picked up by the VA hospital’s Prosthetic Department.

If you have questions surrounding any steps filing for benefits, funeral planning, or completing paperwork, you can also go to your local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Disabled American Veterans Charity (DAV), Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), or American Legion Group for assistance. 

The sacrifices your loved one and your family made in service to this country will be honored and remembered not only by their community, but by the nation as a whole. All of the paperwork and formal procedures are part of making sure that they get the sendoff they earned—and these added details can be overwhelming at times. They will, however, bring you, your family peace of mind in knowing that you are receiving all the honor and assistance that your loved one deserves.

You may be eligible for free bereavement support. Empathy can help with everything from funeral planning to estate administration, with step-by-step guidance and real-time expert support. Many people get free premium access to Empathy as a benefit with their life insurance claim. We partner with New York Life, Guardian Life Insurance Company, Bestow, Lemonade, and other leading carriers. When you make your life insurance claim, talk to your representative about whether Empathy is a benefit they offer.