H.R. 5639 would create a new benefit for the families of deceased veterans whose remains are not placed in a cemetery. The bill would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide an urn or memorial plaque upon request.
Under current law, burial benefits, including the costs of headstones or grave markers for veterans who are interred in a cemetery, are paid by VA from mandatory appropriations. The department does not provide headstones, markers, or urns for veterans who are not interred in cemeteries. H.R. 5639 would require VA to provide an urn or memorial plaque for those veterans upon the request of their families. Veterans who served on or after April 6, 1917, and who otherwise were eligible for burial would be eligible for the new benefit.
On the basis of information from VA about the number of headstones and markers provided annually, as well as data on burial and cremation trends, CBO estimates that in 2021 about 45,000 eligible families would request an urn or plaque under the bill. Under current law, CBO expects that those families would forgo requesting a headstone or grave marker because they would either retain the remains or scatter them. CBO estimates that 22,500 families would choose an urn and an equal number would choose a plaque. Because the percentage of people choosing cremation is expected to increase, CBO estimates that the number of urns and plaques also would rise—to 28,000 each by 2030. Under the bill, the families of some veterans who will have died before the bill is enacted could also request urns or plaques. Using information from VA and data on trends in burials and cremations, CBO estimates 60,000 families would request urns, and 160,000 would request plaques over the 2021-2025 period for veterans who die before the date of enactment.
Over the 2020-2030 period, CBO estimates, 310,000 urns would be provided at an average cost of $171 each, and 415,000 plaques would be provided at an average cost of $57 each. In total, those urns and plaques would cost $76 million, CBO estimates (see Table 1).
Spending Subject to Appropriation
CBO estimates that VA would need additional resources to meet the bill’s requirements and still maintain current levels of service. Using information from VA, CBO estimates that the workload of VA’s burial claims processors would increase by 20 full-time-equivalent positions in 2021 and by an average of 25 such positions each year over the 2020-2030 period. In addition, CBO expects, VA would need additional computers and other resources. In total, CBO estimates, the costs for personnel and other resources would total $18 million over the 2020-2025 period and $30 million over the 2020-2030 period.
CBO’s estimate of the bill’s costs is subject to uncertainty about the number of families who would request urns and plaques. If more or fewer requests were made than CBO expects, costs could be higher or lower than CBO’s estimates.