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Free burial for veterans’ spouses could disrupt VA revenue

For Minnesota’s veterans, interment options come with limited to no cost. Veterans cemeteries in Little Falls, Preston, and soon in Duluth offer free burials, as does Fort Snelling National Cemetery.

But for veterans’ spouses and dependents, a $745 fee could mean the difference between a resting place in a state-funded graveyard or in a national option.

Fort Snelling allows free burials for both veterans and their spouses. Current state law limits free burials only to the former service members in state veterans cemeteries, and the Department of Veterans Affairs charges $745 for the burial of a spouse or eligible dependent at these same cemeteries. HF1597, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Howe (R-Rockville), would eliminate the cost, extending the same benefit to veterans’ loved ones.

“It’s kind of a little bit of a rub” when families learn of this, Howe said.

The House Veterans Affairs Division approved the bill Monday, sending it to the House State Government Finance Committee. Its companion, SF1244, sponsored by Senate President Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville), awaits action by the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee.

The state bases its fee from a federal Veterans Benefits Administration reimbursement policy.

Included in the burials for both parties – whether it’s free or $745 – are a gravesite, a grave liner, a headstone or niche cover and perpetual care.

While the department isn’t opposed to the bill, there are concerns about how the revenue generated from the spouse-burial fees would affect cemetery operations, covering staffing and maintenance expenses. In Fiscal Year 2016, the state collected $117,140 from spouse and dependent burial fees.

Burying family members makes up one-fourth of department revenues.

“I have no issue with the intent of the bill,” Deputy Commissioner Brad Lindsay said. “But I do have concerns about the unintended consequences to our current and future cemetery development.”

Once the state has four operational cemeteries, Lindsay said the actual loss for the Veterans Department would be closer to $500,000 per year.

Some members argued the department could recoup the expenses through its budget requests, having all taxpayers shoulder the costs on a two-year basis. 

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