New VA rule could prevent veterans from being buried with spouses

VIRGINIA, UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 11: A view of Arlington National Cemetery on the occasion of Veterans Day in Virginia, United States on November 11, 2023. (Photo by Celal Gunes/Anadolu via Getty Images)

A new Department of Veterans Affairs plan has sparked concerns that some veterans could be barred from being buried with their spouses.

The proposed rule change recently published by the VA would begin allowing family members of deceased veterans the option to receive a commemorative plaque and an urn in place of being interred at a national cemetery, according to a report from

The plan, which would go into effect this year, is now open for public comment and has faced backlash from multiple groups, who have voiced concerns that families offered the benefit could be caught off guard after accepting the urn or plaque only to later find out they will be unable to be buried together with their loved one, according to the report.

Groups opposing the new rule included the National Funeral Directors Association and the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, who argued that the rule would present families with a "false choice" and force them to feel like they have to give up one benefit in favor of another. Instead, the National Funeral Directors Association suggested in its public comment that the VA open cemetery plots for cremated veterans regardless of whether their families choose to receive an urn and plaque, thus giving their spouses the option to be buried at a national cemetery along with the remains at a later date.

"We understand that double-dipping benefits (receiving the urn benefit and then the burial plot benefit) is prohibited," the association said, according to the report. "However, a veteran and his/her spouse are both entitled to distinct burial benefits. So, while a veteran who receives an urn is no longer eligible for additional benefits like burial, the spouse still has several final disposition benefits to choose from, including ground burial."

The group noted that the current language of the rule change would result in non-veteran spouses being buried in veterans' cemeteries where their veteran spouse is not allowed after receiving the urn and plaque.

The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs said in its comment that a "relatively low cost" item such as an urn should not lead to a denial of "significant" burial benefits. The organization also expressed concerns that a state or tribe "might inadvertently violate the terms of federal grant funding" by burying veterans in a government cemetery whose family had already accepted the other benefit, resulting in cuts to vital grant funding.

Meanwhile, the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs argued that denying interment of a veteran's remains based on the choice to receive the plaque or urn would be "counter to the larger purpose of 'honoring' veterans... wherein interment is an eligibility and services are done with compassion and dignity and the commitment of perpetual care."

Reached for comment by Fox News Digital, VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes said that a 2020 law requires the agency to "provide commemorative plaques and urns to families who do not wish to inter their loved ones."

"Under this law, veterans who receive a commemorative plaque or urn are prohibited from being interred in a VA national cemetery or provided a government headstone, marker or medallion in any cemetery," Hayes continued. "VA’s proposed regulation is following the law as enacted."

Hayes said the VA proposal for enacting the new rule was laid out in November, adding that the agency "cannot comment on the rulemaking process."

"VA values the opinion and feedback we receive from our partners and always reviews and analyzes comments on proposed rules before publishing a final rule," Hayes said. "As always, we will do everything in our power to make sure that veterans and their families have a clear and full understanding of their burial and memorial options at VA — without confusion or surprises — so we can provide them with honors that they deserve."