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Peters’ Bipartisan BRAVE Act to Improve Burial Services for Veterans Advances in Senate

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (MI) today applauded the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee for passing his bipartisan legislation to increase funeral benefits for eligible veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Peters’ Burial Rights for America’s Veterans’ Efforts (BRAVE) Act, which he introduced with U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), 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.

“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 Senator Peters, a former Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “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.”

“I thank my colleagues for approving legislation that contains the bipartisan BRAVE Act,” said Senator Rubio. “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.”

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, CAE, CEO, 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 Jr., President, 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, the VA burial benefit provides:

  • $300 for non-service-connected deaths;
  • $796 if a veteran passes away in a VA facility;
  • $2,000 if a veteran passes away from a service-connected disability.

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.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, 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.

Peters has long been an advocate in the Senate for Michigan’s servicemembers and veterans. Most recently, Peters released a report detailing the results of his investigation into how operational changes at the United States Postal Service (USPS) ordered by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy resulted in compromised service and serious harm for countless Americans, particularly veterans.

Furthermore, Peters’ bipartisan provision was signed into law to help veterans who may have erroneously given a less than honorable discharge from the military due to negative behavior resulting from mental traumas such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Peters also helped introduce a bipartisan bill requiring servicemembers be assessed for exposure to toxic burn pits as part of their routine health exams and helped introduce the bipartisan Veterans Assistance Helpline Act to establish a three-digit hotline for veterans to gain assistance related to their Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits and other services. In addition, bipartisan legislation Peters authored to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) caregiver program passed in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last month.

Peters is also focused on supporting veterans impacted during this pandemic, and previously announced a bipartisan effort to support veteran workforce development during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of that effort, Peters introduced bipartisan legislation to extend GI Bill benefits for veterans whose registered apprenticeships were cut short or ended due to COVID-19. In March, bipartisan legislation Peters introduced to allow more veterans to use their GI bill benefits toward securing a registered apprenticeship was signed into law. He additionally pressed on a bipartisan basis for the BRAVE Act to be included in Coronavirus relief legislation.