A Lasting Memorial & Testament

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DYING--it is the last thing on earth we want to do, and it is usually the last thing we are prepared for. This is evidenced in part by the fact that more than half of Americans do not have a written will. In the military, the Judge Advocate General's Corps will readily assist servicemembers to draw one up, and servicemembers are asked if they have a written will prior to deployment.

However, because it is not a requirement, many do not take advantage of this free service. That may be because wills have to do with dying, and dying is not a topic with which we are comfortable. Ernest Becker, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "The Denial of Death," suggests that death is the primary concern of the living, but that we cope with it by denying it will ever happen to us.

How do you like that introduction? I start out talking about death, and follow that with an assertion that it is something that we do not like to talk about. You may already be feeling squeamish, but you have no need for alarm. That is because the topic, rather than being dismal and macabre, is unalarmingly practical. Someday you will die, and something will be done with your remains. Have you considered the option of being interred in a military cemetery?

National cemeteries were introduced at the beginning of the Civil War, when in July 1862, President Abraham Lincoln obtained authorization through legislation enacted by Congress, to purchase "cemetery grounds for Soldiers who shall have died in the service of the country."

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In that first year alone, 14 national cemeteries were established. Today there are more than 10 times that number: 125 are located in 39 states and Puerto Rico (not to mention 33 Soldier's lots and monument sites), and maintained by a federal government agency known as the National Cemetery Administration (www.cem. va.gov/cem/cems/listcem.asp#DE); the Department of the Interior's National Park Service maintains an additional 14; and the Department of the Army maintains two more, to include Arlington National Cemetery. This does not include the almost 90 state-run veterans cemeteries that can be found in 42 states and two territories, 71 of which are funded by the Veterans Administration (www.cem.va.gov/ cem/scg/lsvc.asp); and, new military cemeteries are being established on an ongoing basis. As for the number of Americans that have been so interred, to include veterans from as early as the Revolutionary War to our present-day conflicts, the total is estimated to be more than 3 million.

Criteria for burial eligibility

To be buried in a national cemetery--and this criteria would apply to most state veteran cemeteries, particularly those that are funded by the VA (i.e., they generally must agree to follow the same rules, guidelines and standards as the national cemeteries, though they may also have an additional residency requirement), the individual must be a member of the armed forces who dies while on active duty.

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A veteran who fulfilled minimum active-duty requirements and, "was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable," also qualifies. Military service during a war or a conflict is not a requirement. Reservists and National Guard members qualify if they were drawing retirement pay at the time of death, or "would have been entitled, but for being under the age of 60." More detailed information regarding eligibility requirements can be found by visiting: www.cem.va.gov/cem/ bbene/eligible.asp.

Another excellent resource is "The Military Advantage: A Comprehensive Guide to Your Military and Veterans Benefits," by C.P. Michel. People may be surprised to know that spouses and dependents are also eligible to be interred with the servicemember at no charge, prior to or after the servicemember's death; state veteran cemeteries, however, may charge $150 to $500 per dependent. …