Retired reservists retain their ranks as members of the reserve component and are issued Retired Reserve ID cards. They are eligible for unlimited use of military commissaries and exchanges and use of recreational facilities with local command approval.
The Defense Department is responsible for providing military honors. However, the Department of Veterans Affairs, active-duty military and many veterans groups pool their resources to provide financial help, practical assistance and military protocol on such occasions. The civilian funeral director handling arrangements usually has forms to get VA burial benefits, plus Social Security and military entitlements.
The following are programs to honor veterans who have died:
Burial flags. VA provides an American flag to cover the casket of any veteran discharged under any condition except dishonorable. This includes retired Guard and reserve members who are entitled to, or are collecting, military retirement benefits. The flag will be given to a spouse, other family member or close friend of the deceased.
Financial aid. VA will pay an allowance of up to $600 — up to $300 for burial expenses and up to $300 toward a plot — for nonservice-related deaths. For service-connected deaths, VA also pays a burial allowance of up to $2,000 for deaths on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and up to $1,500 for deaths before that date. If a veteran whose death is service-connected is buried in a VA national cemetery, some or all of the cost of transporting the deceased may be reimbursed.
Eligibility also may be established when death occurs in a VA facility, VA contract nursing home or state veterans’ nursing home. VA may pay for additional costs of transportation of the remains in such cases. For service-connected deaths, there is no time limit for filing reimbursement claims. For nonservice-connected deaths, claims must be filed within two years after permanent burial or cremation.
Under a 2010 change in law, VA will pay up to $700 toward burial and funeral expenses and a $700 plot interment allowance for deaths that occur in a VA facility or under VA-contracted care. Congress gave this provision a delayed effective date of Oct. 1, 2011.
The government provides free headstones and markers for veterans buried worldwide, as well as for eligible family members buried in national, military base or state veterans’ cemeteries.
Funeral honors. According to military regulations, honor guards are authorized for retirees, but they are supplied by the nearest military installation or facility as a courtesy, not as a right.
The funeral director normally handles the details of getting an honor guard, but local installations also may provide this service. Proof of service is needed to get an honor guard.
Headstones and grave markers. VA provides, at no cost to the family, a government headstone or marker for the graves of all veterans in national cemeteries, state veterans’ cemeteries and private cemeteries worldwide. VA may furnish an appropriate headstone or marker for the graves of eligible veterans buried in private cemeteries whose deaths occurred on or after Sept. 11, 2001, regardless of whether the grave is already marked with a nongovernmental marker.
National cemeteries. Military retirees, including National Guard and reserve retirees, may be buried in any of the 120 cemeteries operated by VA if space is available, as well as those operated by the National Park Service. Also eligible are veterans who served on active duty and received discharges other than dishonorable, as well as Guard and Reserve members who served for 20 creditable years or more and were eligible for retired pay.
There is no cost for a gravesite, headstone or marker in a national cemetery.
Gravesites cannot be reserved in advance.
A veteran generally receives one gravesite. Eligible family members normally are buried in the same site and can be interred first should they die before the retiree.
All retirees and veterans honorably discharged before Oct. 1, 1949, with disabilities rated at 30 percent or more can be buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Also eligible for burial in Arlington are members who die on active duty, retirees, Guard and reserve retirees upon reaching age 60, former prisoners of war and holders of the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Air Force Cross, Navy Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, Silver Star or Purple Heart.
The Arlington Columbarium is available for the cremated remains of honorably discharged veterans and their eligible spouses and dependent children.
Presidential Memorial Certificate. VA provides an engraved paper certificate signed by the president, thanking the family and honoring the veteran’s service to the nation.
Many states operate veterans cemeteries. Eligibility criteria vary; some require prior residency in the state.
VA life insurance. The Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Disability Extension allows members who are totally disabled when discharged to retain SGLI coverage at no cost for up to two years. Members must apply for this benefit.
Veterans’ Group Life Insurance is post-separation insurance that allows service members to convert their SGLI coverage to renewable term insurance. Members can convert to VGLI without proof of good health within 120 days of separation or for up to one year after the 120-day period with proof of good health.
VGLI coverage is limited to the maximum amount of SGLI the member had upon discharge or separation. The veteran must complete an application and choose the amount of coverage.
VGLI provides five-year renewable term life insurance and is issued in amounts of $10,000 to $400,000, subject to the maximum SGLI coverage the member had in the Ready Reserve. All members who separate on or after Sept. 1, 2005, with SGLI coverage greater than $250,000 can apply for VGLI at the higher level.
The military also pays a $100,000 death gratuity as an immediate cash payment to survivors of service members who die on active duty, regardless of whether the death occurred in the line of duty. Members can designate the full $100,000 to anyone they choose, in 10 percent increments. If a member makes no designation, the money goes to survivors in a standard order set by law (spouse, children, parents and siblings, and so on).
Maximum SGLI coverage is $400,000, which costs the member $29 per month in premiums, including $1 for accompanying traumatic injury insurance (see below). The Defense Department covers the full cost of all premiums up to the maximum coverage for service members in designated combat zones for as long as they are deployed.
For more information on VGLI, visit www.insurance.va.gov/sglisite/vgli/vgli.htm.
Traumatic injury insurance. A traumatic injury protection program pays between $25,000 and $100,000 for severe injuries suffered by service members. All active-duty, National Guard and reserve members who have SGLI are insured automatically, for an additional premium cost of $1 per month.
This insurance coverage applies to traumatic injuries regardless of where the injury occurs, on or off the job.
Because of its connection to the SGLI program, the traumatic injury insurance coverage is known as TSGLI.
Those who have SGLI cannot decline the injury coverage, nor can service members carry TSGLI without also carrying basic SGLI.
Examples of payment amounts include $100,000 for total loss of sight in both eyes and $50,000 for loss of one foot at or above the ankle.
VA guarantees loans made by private lenders to buy a home, a manufactured home, a manufactured home and lot, and certain types of condominiums or build, repair and improve a home.
This benefit also may be used to refinance an existing home loan. Certain disabled veterans may receive grants to have their home adapted to accommodate special needs.
To be eligible for a VA home loan, individuals must have completed six years in the Selected Reserve with an honorable discharge; however, requirements for time in service may be reduced due to service-connected disabilities. There is no time limit for using the basic VA home loan.
Contact: VA Loan Guaranty Customer Service office, 888-244-6711; www.homeloans.va.gov/eligibility.htm.
MEDICAL AND DENTAL CARE
After age 60, when retired reservists start collecting their pensions, they are eligible for military health and dental care on a space-available basis. (See the medical and dental benefits section of the Pay and Benefits chapter.)
Numerous retirement and long-term care facilities are available to veterans. These include 138 VA nursing homes and 2,800 contracts with community nursing homes. In addition, 47 states operate 120 veterans’ home programs, 51 state home domiciliaries, five state home hospitals and two state home adult day health care programs. Many charge low or no fees.
Armed Forces Retirement Homes. Facilities with a special relationship to the military are the Armed Forces Retirement Homes in Washington, D.C., and Gulfport, Miss.
The Gulfport facility reopened in October 2010 after being shuttered for five years to repair extensive damage wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, during which its residents were placed in other facilities. The new facility, on 47 waterfront acres along the Mississippi Sound, is a multitower complex with full amenities.
Contact: Admissions Office, Armed Forces Retirement Homes, 800-422-9988; www.afrh.gov.
VA domiciliaries. VA domiciliaries operate in more than 40 VA facilities and provide institutional care to veterans who are not acutely ill and do not need hospital care. They offer short-term rehabilitation and long-term health maintenance to veterans who require minimal medical care. Patients typically return to their communities.
VA domiciliaries provide special programs for homeless veterans and those with chronic mental illness.
VA nursing homes. For veterans requiring more intensive care, VA operates nursing home care units supported by the clinical specialties of a hospital. Certain veterans with service-connected disabilities or low income are eligible for free nursing home care, if space and resources are available.
Other veterans can be considered for nursing home care, but space is limited.
Contact: For general information about enrolling in VA health care benefits, visit www.va.gov/healthbenefits or call 877-222-8387.
Reservists contribute to Social Security from their military and civilian pay. As a rule, they can receive Social Security coverage for retirement, survivors’ income, disability income, Medicare and burial expenses. All military retirees can receive both military and Social Security retirement checks.
Eligibility for Social Security programs is determined by the number of credits (formerly known as quarters) earned while working.
Social Security retirement benefits are based on a complex formula that takes into account lifetime earnings and inflation. For most military retirees, this means the benefit will be affected by their earnings between when they leave active duty and when they begin to collect Social Security.
Social Security’s disability program operates under different rules. A person can be classified as fully disabled by the military but not by Social Security, and vice versa.
To estimate your Social Security income, go to www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator.
Retirees and their families can get seats on government aircraft on a space-available basis.
The program has restrictions on who can travel and where. Retirement-eligible reservists in without-pay status are eligible only for stateside travel. Family members of retirees are eligible only for overseas flights and only when accompanied by the retiree. Using space-A for a business trip is illegal.
Nominal fees are charged on some international flights using commercial aircraft or airports. Retirees have the lowest priority for seats aboard space-A flights.
Travelers are advised to prepare to take a commercial flight if space-A seating is not available when they want to travel. Seating is allotted on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Air Force maintains a general guide to space-A travel online at www.amc.af.mil/shared/media/document/afd-060328-001.doc.
Reservists who receive notification they have reached the 20-year mark (or 15-year mark if offered early retirement) must decide whether to enroll in the Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan. This is an annuity program that parallels the Survivor Benefit Plan offered to active-duty retirees, although there are differences.
Without the survivor plan, retirement checks stop when the military retiree dies. This can leave a surviving spouse with a major economic shortfall.
Base amount. When retirees sign up for the Survivor Benefit Plan, they select a dollar amount of their retirement pay as the foundation of the benefit. The base amount must be between $300 and the full amount of monthly retired pay. Annuities can be as much as 55 percent of your retired pay.
COLA. Premiums and annuities to survivors increase slightly every year, following the same guidelines used for retired-pay COLAs.
Cost. Premiums are paid through a deduction from retired pay starting at age 60. Costs depend on, among other factors, coverage and actuarials based on the reservist’s age and that of the beneficiary when the retiree signs up. Also, those who entered service on or after March 1, 1990, are subject to a cost formula that differs from the one for those who entered before that date.
Enrollment. Enrollment is not automatic. A reservist has 90 days after receiving notification of eligibility to enroll in the survivor plan.
A reservist has three options for enrollment:
♦ Option A. Decline coverage initially. If the reservist dies before reaching age 60, the spouse receives no benefit. Once a reservist is eligible to receive retired pay, that member automatically will be enrolled in the plan unless the member and spouse decline it in writing.
♦ Option B. Enroll in the plan with the option that if the reservist dies before age 60, benefits will start on what would have been the reservist’s 60th birthday. If the reservist dies after the 60th birthday, benefits start the next day.
♦ Option C. Enroll in the plan and have benefits start on the day after the reservist’s death, regardless of age.
Since Jan. 1, 2001, service members have been automatically enrolled in Option C at the maximum amount unless they elect to get reduced coverage. Service members may at times need the agreement of their spouses.
VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. This monthly benefit is payable to certain qualifying dependents of a veteran who dies from a disease or injury while on active duty or active-duty training, an injury incurred or aggravated in the line of duty while on inactive duty for training, or a service-connected disability that causes or contributes to death.
DIC is payable in some cases if the veteran was 100 percent disabled due to a service-connected disability at the time of death, even if a service-connected condition did not cause the death.
Contact: Visit www.ssa.gov or write to the Social Security Administration, Office of Public Inquiries, 6401 Security Blvd., Room 4-C-5 Annex, Baltimore, MD 21235-6401.
UNIFORMS AND INSIGNIA
More than anything else, common sense and dignity govern when and where a military retiree can wear a uniform.
Medals and ribbons. When in uniform, retirees can wear any medal, campaign ribbon or decoration they were authorized to wear while on active duty or in reserve status.
Medals are appropriate with formal evening wear. On other occasions, ribbons are suitable when worn with uniforms. Wearing a foreign decoration is appropriate only if at least one U.S. decoration also is on the uniform.
Lapel pins that come with decorations for valor and service can be worn at almost any time.
Retirees who have lost decorations or never received decorations they earned may request them. The government will replace, at no cost to the veteran, lost or destroyed decorations for service or valor. There may be a charge for campaign ribbons and badges, however.
The initial request should include the dates of military service, Social Security or serial number, and dates of birth and retirement. The process normally takes several months.
Contact: Former service members and the survivors of deceased veterans can obtain replacement medals by submitting a Standard Form (SF 180), Request Pertaining to Military Records, to the following agencies:
♦ Air Force, Army: National Personnel Records Center, 9700 Page Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63132-5100.
♦ Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard: Bureau of Naval Personnel, Liaison Office, Room 5409, 9700 Page Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63132-5100.
For more information or to download an SF 180, visit www.archives.gov/veterans/replace-medals.html.
Uniforms. For appropriate military occasions, retirees and veterans can wear the current uniform or the last one they wore on active duty. A local commander can authorize the wearing of other uniforms.
Active-duty enlisted members who retired as officers in the reserves or National Guard can wear the uniform and insignia of their commissioned ranks. Retirees who teach military education in schools can wear their uniforms during the working day.
Wearing a uniform is forbidden for business or personal gain or while participating in an event that may cast the military in an unfavorable light.
Retirees should not wear uniforms overseas unless specifically asked to do so. Customs and laws of many countries restrict or forbid foreigners from wearing uniforms or military insignia.
U.S. FLAG FOR RETIREMENT
Reserve members are authorized to receive an American flag if they are retiring or were discharged after Oct. 5, 1999, and meet the qualifications to receive military retirement pay at age 60. This service is provided at no cost.