VA’s National Cemetery Scheduling Office and VA national cemeteries have received many calls from family members and funeral homes asking how they can apply for the Funeral Expense Reimbursement Program that covers funeral expenses when a loved one’s death was related to COVID-19.
This new program, which began on April 12, 2021, is run entirely by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). VA has no role in creating or tracking claims for this reimbursement program.
To learn more about the program and how to apply, visit this FEMA website: https://www.fema.gov/disasters/coronavirus/economic/funeral-assistance/faq.
Before getting started
- Gather the documents FEMA requires before you call FEMA to apply. Family members must provide documentation to establish a claim. You do NOT need any paperwork from VA.
- The only way to apply is by calling FEMA’s toll-free number. There is no way to apply online.
- Only the person who covered the funeral expenses can call FEMA’s toll-free number, not a third party like a funeral home director or cemetery representative.
- FEMA only wants documents showing the costs you incurred. If your loved one was interred in a VA national cemetery, there was no cost to you for those things associated with the cemetery, such as the headstone or marker, the gravesite or columbarium niche, the grave liner, and assorted fees for opening and closing the grave, mounting the headstone, etc. All these items were part of the Veteran’s burial benefit with VA.
- FEMA’s program can be used to reimburse a family for funeral-related expenses that VA doesn’t cover, such as the cost of the casket or urn, clergy fees and funeral home fees. FEMA’s website has more details.
- The Veterans Benefits Administration also pays a burial allowance to the families in certain circumstances, whether or not the Veteran is interred in a VA cemetery. To learn more about this VA benefit and who qualifies, click here: https://www.va.gov/burials-memorials/veterans-burial-allowance/.
Please be patient with FEMA’s call center, as it is currently dealing with a very high volume of calls. If you get a busy signal, try again later. There is no deadline for submitting claims.
Finally, be prepared before calling FEMA’s toll-free number. FEMA’s website provides all of the details on what you need to do: https://www.fema.gov/disasters/coronavirus/economic/funeral-assistance/faq.
Les’ Melnyk is the chief of Public Affairs for VA’s National Cemetery Administration.