No longer will a headstone mark the grave of an American veteran when taps sound for him one last time - unless his family or friends pay for it.

The nation for which he fought, and sometimes bled, in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam won't contribute anything.Buried deep in the deficit-cutting legislation Congress passed before it adjourned was the elimination of the $85 allowance for a headstone or marker for the graves of veterans not buried in a national cemetery.

By eliminating the headstone allowance and limiting burial plot allowance, the government will save $30 million in fiscal 1991 and $166 million over the next five years.

This new frugality on behalf of the dead veteran is only a portion of what Congress did and did not do for America's former servicemen and servicewomen in the closing hours of the session.

As part of the deficit-cutting package, Congress ordered cutbacks in numerous programs for veterans that will save $621 million the first year and $3.7 billion over five years.

If that were not enough, Congress then failed to approve a veterans' benefits and health care package, denying 2.1 million disabled veterans a 5.4 percent cost-of-living increase.

It was the first time disabled veterans did not get an increase when one was given to Social Security recipients.

Taken together, passage of the deficit-reduction bill and failure to pass the benefits bill was tantamount to a carpet-bombing of the veterans.

Dennis Cullinan, speaking for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said his organization did not like the cuts in the deficit-reduction program, adding, "Veterans have done their part through the years in the attempt to balance the budget."

He acknowledged, however, that those cuts were better than the "total devastation" that would have struck veterans if across-the-board cuts had been imposed.