‘Gerald’s Law’ Would Grant Funeral, Burial Benefits to VA Hospice Patients

Federal legislators are advancing a bill that would close a hospice-related loophole in veterans’ benefits.

When eligible veterans die, many of their families are entitled to a financial benefit from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to defray some of the costs of funerals and cremation or burial. However, when a veteran transitions from a VA facility to hospice, they lose access to that benefit. This is even the case when hospice care is provided by the VA itself.

Denise Formolo, a veterans service officer for Dickinson County, Michigan, discovered the gap in benefits while aiding the family of veteran Gerald Elliott. Soon after, she began advocating for change, including reaching out to members of Congress.


“Nobody seems to know why that was never covered; it was some kind of glitch,” Formolo told Hospice News. “I delved into the books on VA law and found out that, in fact, VA hospice is not considered VA health care.”

Formolo decided to take the bull by the horns and began drafting a bill that she would later send to the congressional representative for her district, Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Michigan). At first, lawmakers were incredulous that this benefit wasn’t covered for veteran patients in hospice, but further discussion led Bergman to take up the bill — which has become known as “Gerald’s Law.”

Rep. Colin Allred (D-Texas) co-sponsored the bipartisan legislation.


“It’s heartening to see the expansive support ‘Gerald’s Law’ received across party lines as it passed the House, because this is not a partisan issue,” Bergman said in a statement. “When a veteran who has fought for our freedom is denied any benefit for themselves or their family, Congress must rally together as we did today to fix that.”

The National Coalition for Hospice and Palliative Care and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) have endorsed the legislation. NHPCO recently merged with the National Association for Home Care & Hospice (NAHC).

“NHPCO proudly supports the Senator Elizabeth Dole 21st Century Veterans Healthcare and Benefits Improvement Act, which includes Gerald’s Law, a provision that addresses a crucial issue for terminally ill veterans and their families. With the majority of veterans passing away outside VA facilities, it’s vital to ensure equitable access to burial benefits, regardless of veterans’ chosen end-of-life care setting,” Ben Marcantonio, NHPCO’s interim CEO, told Hospice News in an email. “Hospice care should be a fundamental right for every American who desires it. Let’s honor our nation’s heroes by supporting broad access to comfort and choice and relief from financial concerns when it matters most.”

Despite the widespread support in Congress, passage is uncertain. The bill’s language has been bundled into a larger piece of legislation, the Senator Elizabeth Dole 21st Century Veterans Healthcare and Benefits Improvement Act. This omnibus bill, introduced in the House at the end of May, is designed to reform various aspects of VA health care, including access to mental health and more home- and community-based services, among other provisions.

Lawmakers could vote against the Dole Act — even if they support Gerald’s Law in particular — due to other components of the massive legislative text, which is well over 300 pages long.

“We have to advocate [for Gerald’s Law] because we have a bunch of Congress members who are not on board yet, because the Elizabeth Dole Act covers so much stuff,” Formolo said. “It’s a modernization act, which means there’s a lot of changes that would happen at the VA. So I think that’s part of the problem.”