Veteran suicide is on the rise ever since we started tracking it in 2016. Prevention fails approximately 22 times a day. What the new burial benefits don’t keep pace with is the dollar amount awarded as benefits. They continue to fall way short. If these increases are any indication of how much our legislators think of postvention support for the families of Veterans suicide, then it is going to be a hard road to travel indeed.
Several sections of S. 4511 would increase burial and death benefits for
veterans. The changes in those benefits, which are paid from mandatory appropriations,
would increase direct spending by $444 million over the 2021-2030 period.
Section 202 would increase VA’s standard death benefit beginning in 2023.
Under current law, VA pays the surviving family of eligible veterans a monetary benefit to cover funeral and other expenses. The amount of the payment depends on whether theveteran was hospitalized by VA at the time of death, and whether the veteran died from a service-related condition. The standard VA death benefit is $300 for veterans who were not hospitalized by VA at the time of their death and whose death was not the result of service related conditions. The bill would increase that amount to equal the rate for veterans who were hospitalized by VA at the time of death, currently $796.
Under section 202, that amount would increase with inflation each year. Using information from VA, CBO estimates that about 39,000 veteran families would receive $855 in 2023, an increase of $555. That gap compared to the current benefit would continue to grow, and CBO estimates that by 2030 an additional 46,000 families would receive an additional $700. In total, CBO estimates section 202 would increase direct spending by $212 million over the 2021-2030 period.
Outer Burial Receptacles.
Section 203 would allow VA to pay the cost of an outer burial receptacle, such as a crypt or grave liner, for casketed burials that occur in state or tribal cemeteries. VA would begin providing that benefit in 2023. An outer burial receptacle is a container that is designed to protect the casket in the grave. Under current law, VA only provides outer burial receptacles for casketed burials in national veterans’ cemeteries. Using information from VA on the number of burials in state and tribal cemeteries and the cost of outer burial receptacles, CBO estimates that VA would provide an average of 12,400 additional outer burial receptacles per year at an average cost of $850, beginning in 2023. In total, CBO estimates providing outer burial receptacles for casketed burials in state and tribal cemeteries would increase direct spending by $88 million over the 2021-2030 period.
Burial Urns and Plaques.
VA provides headstones or grave markers for veterans who are interred in cemeteries. The department does not provide those benefits for veterans who are not interred in cemeteries. Section 207 would require VA to provide an urn or memorial plaque for those veterans upon the request of their families. Veterans who served on or after April 6, 1917, and who otherwise were eligible for burial would be eligible for the new benefit. That change would be effective beginning in 2023.
Estimate S. 4511, as ordered reported by the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
On the basis of information from VA about the number of headstones and markers providedannually, as well as data on burial and cremation trends, CBO estimates that in 2023 about 48,000 eligible families would request an urn or plaque under the bill. Under current law, CBO expects that those families would forgo requesting a headstone or grave marker because they would either retain the remains or scatter them. CBO estimates that 24,000 families would choose an urn and an equal number would choose a plaque. Because the percentage of people choosing cremation is expected to increase, CBO estimates that the number of urns and plaques also would rise—to 28,000 each by 2030.
Under the bill, the families of some veterans who will have died before the bill is enacted could also request urns or plaques. Using information from VA and data on trends in burials and cremations, CBO estimates 86,000 families would request urns, and 203,000 would request plaques over the 2023-2026 period for veterans who die before the date of enactment.
Over the 2021-2030 period, CBO estimates, 294,000 urns would be provided at an average cost of $175 each, and 410,000 plaques would be provided at an average cost of $59 each. In total, those urns and plaques would cost $76 million, CBO estimates.
Implementing section 207 would also affect discretionary spending.
Transportation to State and Tribal Cemeteries.
Under current law, VA may pay the costs for transporting the remains of deceased veterans to the nearest national cemetery. Section 201 would allow VA to pay for the costs of transporting the remains of deceased veterans to state or tribal cemeteries, up to the amount it would cost to transport those remains to the nearest national cemetery. That change would be effective beginning in 2023.
On the basis of information from VA on the number of remains that receive the transportation benefit fromVA to national cemeteries, and the number of burials in state and tribal cemeteries, CBO estimates an average of 11,000 additional veteran remains would have transportation costs covered by VA annually beginning in 2023. Using information on the average cost to provide transportation for deceased veterans to national cemeteries, CBO estimates transporting a veteran’s remains to state and tribal cemeteries will cost an averageof $710 beginning in 2023. In total, CBO estimates that the cost of transporting the remains of deceased veterans to state and tribal cemeteries would increase direct spending by $61 million over the 2021-2030 period.
Under current law, VA will inscribe on or replace, upon request, a veteran’s government-provided headstone or gravesite marker that is located in a national cemetery in order to include information about the veteran’s spouse or dependent children following the spouse’s or child’s death. Section 204 would allow VA to replace any headstones or gravesite markers it has provided for veterans, regardless of the type cemetery in which they are located. That new benefit would be available to veterans who die after October 1, 2019.
On the basis of information from VA on the number of headstones provided for veterans buried each year in non-VA cemeteries, as well as other demographic information such as marriage and mortality rates for veterans, CBO estimates that about 3,000 deceased veterans would be eligible for replacement headstones in 2021 as a result of the death of a spouse or dependent child.
Using data from VA, CBO estimates that the families of 25 percent of those veterans—about 750—would request replacement headstones. The number of eligible veterans would increase to about 24,000 by 2030, with about 6,000 families requesting replacement headstones in that year. In total, VA would replace about 31,000 additional headstones over the 2021-2030 period, at an average cost of about $230 per headstone. In total, replacing those headstones would cost $7 million, CBO estimates.