Wreath at Outdoor Veteran's Cemetery Urn Mausoleum

VA Confirms New Urn and Plaque Policy Limits Burial Options in National Veteran Cemeteries

In a recent final rule issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the agency outlined its new benefit for distributing memorial urns and plaques to veterans, stirring debate and dissatisfaction among veteran groups and families. The regulation enforces a provision that restricts veterans who receive these commemorative items from being buried in national veteran cemeteries—a stipulation that the VA insists is mandated by federal law.

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Legal Constraints and Veteran Community Backlash

This policy stems from a 2021 amendment to the U.S. Code under the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020. The amendment authorized the VA to issue “headstones, markers, medallions and burial receptacles” by adding “urns and commemorative plaques,” based on details shared earlier with the proposed regulation. While the initiative aims to honor veterans by acknowledging their service at no cost to them, it has inadvertently created a dilemma for families planning future burials.

The National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs and the National Funeral Directors Association have voiced their apprehensions, emphasizing the unintended consequences of such benefits. These groups express concern that the perceived minor value of an urn or plaque should not preclude veterans from the significant benefit of burial in a national cemetery—a service that includes perpetual care and the honor of a recognized resting place.

State Versus National Cemetery Options

In response to these concerns, the VA has clarified that the limitation only applies to burials in national cemeteries under its jurisdiction. Veterans remain eligible for burial in state-operated veteran cemeteries, which are not governed by this federal rule. This distinction, however, has not alleviated concerns, as the prohibition may still disrupt plans for families wishing to inter veterans together with their spouses in national cemeteries.

Handling and Awareness Concerns

Further complicating matters, the VA has acknowledged that the new rule could lead to complications with how veteran remains are handled by future generations. There are fears that offering a free urn may encourage families to opt for this choice without fully understanding the ramifications, potentially leading to scenarios where veterans’ remains are mishandled or left unclaimed due to the unexpected restriction on burial options. The VA has committed to better informing families about these consequences, but the effectiveness of these measures remains to be seen.

Authority and Control Issues

The VA also faced questions about its ability to amend the rule should problems arise. For instance, there has been a suggestion to allow families to return urns or plaques to restore eligibility for national cemetery burials. However, the VA stated that it lacks the authority to implement such a process. Once an urn or plaque has been issued, the VA insists it must defer to the family to manage the item as personal property, relinquishing any further control or responsibility over the remains.

Despite assurances of support for unclaimed veterans, the rule essentially imposes a trade-off between a modest immediate recognition and more substantial, long-term burial benefits, raising concerns about whether the VA is fully honoring its commitment to veterans.


What does accepting a VA-furnished urn or plaque mean for a veteran’s burial options?

  • Accepting these items disqualifies a veteran from being buried in a national veteran cemetery, as per the current VA regulations.

Why does the VA impose this restriction with the urn and plaque benefit?

  • This restriction is mandated by the federal law enacted under the Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020, which does not provide flexibility to the VA in this matter.

Can the decision to accept an urn or plaque be reversed?

  • Currently, the VA does not have the authority to allow families to return these items and reinstate eligibility for national cemetery burial.

What should families consider before accepting an urn or plaque from the VA?

  • Families should consider the long-term implications on burial rights in national cemeteries and ensure that they fully understand the benefits they are forfeiting.

How is the VA addressing concerns about this new benefit?

  • The VA is committed to increasing awareness and providing detailed information about the urn and plaque program to ensure families are well-informed about their choices and the implications of accepting these memorial items.

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One Comment

  1. Thank you Benjamin, your continued, vital research and dissemination of solid info for the Vet community shines again. I’ll pull out the VA’s approval of my burial at and see if any changes apply. Great job!