Kinzinger, Peters, Bustos Lead Bipartisan Push to Include Funeral Benefits Increase for Veterans' Survivors in Next Coronavirus Relief Package
U.S. Representatives Adam Kinzinger (IL-16) and Cheri Bustos (IL-17), and U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI), a former Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called for the inclusion of their bipartisan bill to increase funeral benefits for eligible veterans in the next phase of Coronavirus relief legislation. With COVID-19 posing serious risks among elderly veterans and those with service-related health conditions, the Burial Rights for America’s Veterans’ Efforts (BRAVE) Act would upgrade the VA’s reimbursement for the costs of a veteran’s funeral, providing critical relief to surviving families suffering a loss.
“Forty percent of veterans are over the age of 65 and many young veterans suffer respiratory damage associated with burn pit exposure. Therefore a significant share of veterans are at high risk for COVID-19 exposure becoming fatal,” the lawmakers wrote. “Veterans should be treated equally based on their service. Unfortunately, current policy penalizes survivors based on the circumstances at the time of death.”
“Every veteran who served honorably deserves a dignified farewell,” the lawmakers continued. “At this time of crisis, it is critical that Congress acts to update and fix the unfair VA funeral benefit structure.”
In a letter to Congressional leaders, the lawmakers called for the inclusion of their bill to ensure all non-service connected deaths are treated equally, regardless of where the veteran passes away. Currently, veterans that pass away in a VA facility are provided greater funeral benefits than veterans who pass away in their home or another non-VA hospital.
Peters reintroduced the bipartisan BRAVE Act last year and previously testified in support of the bipartisan legislation at a Senate Veteran Affairs Committee hearing. VA Undersecretary for Benefits, Dr. Paul Lawrence, has expressed the VA’s support for the bill. Kinzinger and Bustos have introduced companion bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Text of the letter is copied below and available here:
As Congress works to deliver the American people relief through an additional COVID-19 response package, we write to urge inclusion of the Burial Rights for America’s Veterans’ Efforts (BRAVE) Act (S. 598/H.R. 497). The BRAVE Act would increase VA burial benefits for non-service connected deaths and authorize annual adjustments based on Consumer Price Index (CPI) increases for all VA burial benefits. This update is more important now than ever.
Forty percent of veterans are over the age of 65 and many young veterans suffer respiratory damage associated with burn pit exposure. Therefore a significant share of veterans are at high risk for COVID-19 exposure becoming fatal. VA is tracking 9,691 veterans who have tested positive for Coronavirus (resulting in 770 known veteran deaths to date). The actual number of veteran cases is likely considerably higher given that not all veterans receive health care from VA.
Veterans should be treated equally based on their service. Unfortunately, current policy penalizes survivors based on the circumstances at the time of death. Veterans who die of a non-service connected condition outside of a VA facility, perhaps at home under quarantine or in a non-VA emergency room, are offered just $300 for funeral expenses. Meanwhile, VA will pay up to $796 toward burial and funeral expenses for non-service connected deaths inside a VA facility. The BRAVE Act would grant parity to survivors by making the benefit the same regardless of where a veteran dies.
The last increase to the non-service connected burial allowance occurred in 1978. The last increase to the service connected burial allowance occurred in 2001. That means these benefits have stayed the same while the costs of funerals have increased. The average funeral cost in 2019 was $9,135. Moreover, VA has testified support for the BRAVE Act and requested an update to this benefit as a legislative proposal in its Fiscal Year 2021 budget submission.
Every veteran who served honorably deserves a dignified farewell. At this time of crisis, it is critical that Congress acts to update and fix the unfair VA funeral benefit structure. Thank you for your leadership and for standing up for our nation’s veterans during this time of crisis.