Veterans Benefits & Information
Monetary and Cemetery Benefits
The Veterans Administration has traditionally provided monetary benefits to help defray the cost of the funeral and cemetery expenses of a deceased veteran. However, budget cutbacks over the last few decades have drastically reduced not only the amount of these benefits, but also who is eligible to receive them.
Although certain monetary benefits still exist, the primary benefit provided to a deceased veteran is burial at a national (veterans) cemetery. This means that the grave, outer burial container, marker, and the labor associated with opening and closing of the grave is all provided without charge. This does not however, defray the costs for the funeral services, casket, or any other expenses incurred at the funeral home, which remain the family’s responsibility.
A copy of the veteran’s discharge papers from the military is needed to obtain the various benefits. In some cases, the veteran’s social security number may be used to verify military service data if the discharge cannot be located. If the discharge is unavailable, and the social security number is not associated with the service data, a copy of the discharge may be obtained from the national record archives. This process can take several weeks, so it is imperative that families have access to the discharge papers prior to the time of need.
The local O.C. Veterans Service Office, located at 1300 S. Grand Avenue, Building B, Santa Ana, will actively pursue the rights of veterans of the United States Armed Forces, and their dependents and survivors, to receive Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA) benefits. They will work collaboratively with the DVA, with nationally chartered veterans organizations, and others, to assure that veterans, their dependents, and/or survivors, receive entitlements the veterans earned while serving in this Country’s military services. For more information on the OC Veterans Service Office visit their website at: veterans.oc.gov.com
As a courtesy, upon receipt of the VA Certified Death Certificate, Hilgenfeld Mortuary will complete the funeral/burial benefit claim forms on behalf of the family, which can then be submitted to the O.C. Veterans Office for benefit determination. If entitled to additional benefits, a Veterans Claim Officer will assist you in preparing all the required forms, advise you as to the required documentation, answer any questions you may have relative to the claim and submit your application to the appropriate agency for consideration. Your claim will be followed until a final decision has been rendered by the Department of Veteran Affairs.
You may email the local office at: OCVSO@hcs.ocgov.com regarding benefits, or telephone (714) 480-6555. You may also visit the NCA website at: www.cem.va.gov or telephone (800) 827-1000 for additional burial eligibility or other VA benefits.
Due to military base closings and budget cutbacks, many military honor guards have been disbanded in the last 15 years. This has made it difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to obtain military honors for an eligible veteran. In response to complaints from the families of veterans, the congress enacted legislation that requires the armed forces to provide military honors upon request. However, the definition of “honors” in this case means a representative to present the flag to the family, and nothing more. Military honors has traditionally meant a flag detail, a firing party, and a bugler. Since many families would like to have these honors, many volunteer groups have formed in the last few years to supplement the military’s limited availability. These groups often consist of American Legion members, Veterans of Foreign War members, ROTC groups, reserve and National Guard forces, and other veterans or retired officers. If military honors are requested, we will first try to obtain honors from the branch that the veteran served in. If full honors are not available from that branch, we will contact one of the local groups as described above. There is no guarantee though, that a group will be available at the time and location requested, and service arrangements may need to be modified to accommodate the honor guard’s schedule.
Many of these private groups exist through donations, which help pay for uniforms, transportation and supplies. At the time of arrangement, we can advise you if a donation would be appropriate.
Contact the Veterans Administration
For more information on VA benefits, you can contact the Veterans Administration at 1-800-827-1000.
Riverside National Cemetery
Established in 1978, Riverside National Cemetery is one of 120 cemeteries in the national cemetery system. The 740 acres donated by the Air Force for the cemetery were originally part of Camp Haan, an anti-aircraft training facility used in World War II. The cemetery currently conducts over 7,000 interments per year, and has sufficient capacity to continue accepting interments through the year 2030. An additional 182 acres is expected to be annexed from the Air Force in the near future.
Although an eligible veteran (or spouse) can be buried in any national cemetery, Riverside National is the closest available national cemetery in Southern California. Cemeteries such as Los Angeles National Cemetery and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego are at or near burial capacity, and are not accepting new interments (exceptions may be made if a family member is already buried there). For all practical purposes, when we discuss burial at a veteran's cemetery, we are referring to Riverside National Cemetery. Eligibility for interment at a national cemetery is extended to veterans discharged under conditions other than dishonorable, retired veterans, married spouses, and dependents who are minors or medically dependent for life (eligibility subject to approval). The cemetery will provide a burial or cremation space for the veteran and spouse (and children, if applicable), a minimum outer burial container, a grave marker, and the labor associated with the opening and closing of the grave, all without cost.
The cemetery maintains 25 Memorial Honor Details, to provide military honors such as flag folding, a gun salute, and the playing of Taps. These details may be comprised of American Legion, VFW, ROTC, and reserve or National Guard members, and supplement the limited availability of military honor guards. The types of honors available vary with each group, and full honors are not always available for every service. If full honors are desired, our mortuary staff can help to coordinate a day and time for the service when the requested honors can be accommodated. Unlike a private cemetery, Riverside National Cemetery does not make arrangements for interment directly with the family. Instead, your funeral counselor will make all the arrangements with the cemetery on your behalf. All that is needed is a copy of the discharge papers so that eligibility can be verified. The cemetery will usually confirm eligibility within 24 hours, and the exact day and time of the committal service can be scheduled at that point. On the day of the committal service, the procession will gather inside the main entrance at a “staging area”, to insure that everyone is together and ready to proceed into the park. Either a cemetery representative or your funeral director will lead everyone by car as a group to the location of the service. The committal service will not take place at the actual gravesite, due to the heavy equipment operating in the vicinity of the grave. Instead, one of seven “shelters” will be used as the location for the service. The shelters are landscaped areas with a permanent, overhead canopy and seats for the family, and provide a visually pleasing setting for the ceremony.
The cemetery is located at the Van Buren off ramp of the 215 Freeway in Riverside.
From Orange County, take the 91 Freeway east to Van Buren Blvd, and go east on Van Buren approximately 10 miles. The cemetery will be on the right hand side just before reaching the 215 Freeway.
From Los Angeles, take the 60 Freeway east through Riverside, where it will combine with the 215 Freeway South. Continue to the Moreno Valley area, where the 60 and 215 Freeways separate. Take the 215 Freeway south towards San Diego, and exit at the Van Buren Blvd. off ramp. Turn right on Van Buren, and you will immediately see the cemetery on the left hand side.
The cemetery’s address is 22495 Van Buren Blvd, Riverside, CA 92518, and their phone number is 909-653-8417.