VA Burial Benefit Reform Bill Backed by Marco Rubio Heads to the Senate Floor

A proposal expanding funeral benefits for veterans backed by a U.S. senator from Florida is gaining some traction on Capitol Hill and is now headed to the Senate floor.

Last week, the U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee passed U.S. Sen. Gary Peters’, D-Mich., “Burial Rights for America’s Veterans’ Efforts (BRAVE) Act” which has U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as the main cosponsor.

“The…Burial Rights for America’s Veterans’ Efforts (BRAVE) Act would update the current burial benefit to treat all non-service-connected deaths equally, regardless of where the veteran passes away. Under current policy, survivors of certain veterans who pass away in a VA facility are provided greater funds to cover the costs of funerals than for veterans who pass away in their home or another medical facility,” Rubio’s office noted.

“I thank my colleagues for approving legislation that contains the bipartisan BRAVE Act,” Rubio said. “Our nation’s veterans have sacrificed so much defending our country, and while we will never be able to fully repay them, we can ensure they have a proper funeral and burial no matter where they pass away. The BRAVE Act ensures that each and every one of America’s heroes receives the honor and respect they deserve, and I am hopeful that the full Senate will soon have a chance to act on this bipartisan bill.”

“Veterans who have served and sacrificed for our country should be treated equally based on their service, not the circumstances at their time of death,” said Peters. “My bipartisan legislation that advanced in the Senate would take important steps towards finally fixing the VA’s funeral benefit system. I will continue pressing for swift action to enact this legislation. With veteran deaths from COVID-19 rising, this legislation is needed more than ever. We owe it those veterans and their families to ensure they are properly laid to rest with dignity and respect.”

“On behalf of the more than 20,000 members of the National Funeral Directors Association, I would like to thank Sens. Gary Peters and Marco Rubio for introducing the BRAVE Act and Sens. Jerry Moran and Jon Tester – and the entire Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee – for including it in the Veteran Benefits Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2020,” said Christine Pepper, the CEO of the National Funeral Directors Association. “We applaud their commitment to our nation’s veterans and ensuring our nation’s veterans receive equitable treatment and respect when they die.”

“As a funeral director who serves the families of veterans, I cannot express how delighted I am to see the BRAVE Act included as part of a larger benefits package for our nation’s heroes,” said R. Bryant Hightower, the president of the National Funeral Directors Association. “This crucial step means that families will be able to lay their veteran to rest with the dignity befitting their sacrifice. I urge the full Senate to pass this bill and for the House to do the same. The veterans who gave of themselves deserve nothing less than our full support.”

Currently, in terms of burial service, the VA offers $300 for non-service-connected deaths. If a veteran died in VA facility, the VA offers $796 for burial service. If a veteran dies due to service-connected disabilities, the VA offers $2,000 for burial service.

“The BRAVE Act would increase the $300 for non-service-connected deaths to $796 to equal the benefit received if a veteran passes away in a VA facility. The legislation also indexes for inflation both the non-service and service-related passing funeral benefits, thereby eliminating the need for Congress to make further readjustments. The provision advancing in the Senate today will increase VA funeral benefits by grouping all eligible veterans who die of a non-service-connected disability into one category of burial benefits that is indexed to inflation, regardless of location of death,” Rubio’s office noted.

“According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the national median cost of a funeral in 2019 was $9,135 – not including a vault, which is typically required by most cemeteries. Over the past five years, the median cost of an adult funeral in the United States has increased 7.3 percent and has not kept up with the pace of inflation. VA’s last increase to the non-service-connected burial allowance occurred in 1978, meaning today’s benefit only covers a fraction of what it was meant to,” the senator’s office added.

Then U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, Jr., R-Calif., introduced the companion measure in the U.S. House but he resigned at the start of the year after pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds. He is currently in prison while U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., has taken over the bill. The bill has almost 50 cosponsors in the House including U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., Val Demings, D-Fla., Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and John Rutherford, R-Fla.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

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