If you recently lost a loved one who was a current member of the military or a veteran, you may wonder whether they are able to be buried with full military funeral honors. If this describes your situation, let us first express appreciation for your loved one's service. We are thankful to our current and past military members who chose to spend years of their lives in defense of our country.
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We would also like to help you navigate the rules and regulations regarding military funerals. Since you are the family member of someone who served your country, you know that the military has an official procedure for everything.
We have read all the rules on the VA's website and are ready to teach you what benefits your loved one may be eligible for regarding their funeral.
What Are the Military Funeral Honors and Procedures?
Before we discuss military funeral honors and procedures, let's take a moment to discuss who is eligible to receive burial in a national cemetery.
According to the Department of Defense, your loved one may be eligible for burial in a national cemetery if they meet one of the following classifications:
- Military member on active duty
- Military retiree
- Member or former member of the Selected Reserve
- Eligible U.S. veterans of any war
- Other U.S. veterans who served at least one term of enlistment and separated under conditions other than dishonorable
There may be other specific eligibility requirements for some of the other honors. Here are the benefits or traditions that your loved one may be eligible to receive.
Burial in a national cemetery
Your loved one may be eligible to be buried in one of the country's 151 national cemeteries. The cemetery plot and the cost of opening and closing the grave would be covered as a part of those benefits.
The military member's spouse may also qualify for these benefits, even if the spouse dies before the veteran. Your loved one could receive this benefit even if they chose cremation.
Headstone, marker, or medallion
A government headstone or marker will be provided for those choosing to be buried in a national cemetery. Otherwise, review the extremely specific eligibility requirements to see if your loved one qualifies to receive a headstone, marker, or medallion for a private cemetery as part of their military benefits. If your loved one qualifies, flat, upright, or niche markers are available.
Most of the time, if the headstone or grave marker is placed in a national cemetery, the family will incur no expense for the setting of the stone. If the marker or headstone is to be placed in a public cemetery, the family will need to pay for the stone to be set in place. You may choose to have a military medallion affixed to your loved one's headstone that the family purchased.
Presidential Memorial Certificate
A Presidential Memorial Certificate is one that honors the military service of the deceased. The current president signs it at the time of your loved one's death.
Families of loved ones who are buried in a national cemetery will receive this certificate automatically. Otherwise, families can request this honor by filling out this form.
Presentation of burial flag and playing taps
When most people think of a person being buried with full military honors, they think of the military funeral flag presentation. The law states that upon the surviving family member's request, every eligible veteran should receive a military funeral honor ceremony, which includes the folding and presenting of the burial flag and the playing of taps.
The honor guard should consist of at least two members of the U.S. armed forces and one of those representatives should come from the deceased veteran's branch.
Under this extremely specific list of conditions, you may be eligible to receive a reimbursement for some of the costs of your loved one's burial. The amount you may receive as a part of the veteran's death benefits depends on the situation. Please refer to the lengthy explanation on the VA's website.
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One of the most critical military benefits you could receive as a family member of the deceased is bereavement counseling. To receive bereavement (or grief) counseling, you need to be the surviving spouse, child, or parent of a military service member who died while serving his country.
These services will be provided at veteran centers, your home, or another location where you feel the most comfortable. To learn more about counseling, call 202-461-6530 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
How Do You Apply for Military Funeral Honors?
You can apply for military funeral honors in several ways. The funeral home staff may be able to help you with this process as part of their fees.
Otherwise, here are the steps as outlined by the Veteran's Administration website.
1. Gather documentation and information
It’s essential that you realize that your loved one may receive military honors (such as the presentation of the flag) regardless of if they are buried in a national cemetery.
If your loved one wished to be buried surrounded by his fellow servicemembers, your first step to schedule a burial is to gather the necessary documents. You'll need the DD214 or other discharge documents of the veteran, as well as documents to verify a relationship between the veteran and their dependent, to receive these benefits.
You'll then need to provide the following information about the deceased: name, gender, Social Security number or military service number, date of birth, marital status, date of death, and ZIP code at the time of death. You'll also need to provide similar information for the next of kin.
2. Decide on the burial details
Once you have gathered the needed documents and information, you need to decide on a cemetery. To find a V.A. national cemetery, click on this link. To find a state veteran's cemetery, click here. Of course, you can also choose to have your loved one interred in a public cemetery that is not affiliated with the government.
If your loved one chose to be buried in a national cemetery as a part of their military benefit, you must inform the officials of the type of burial (casket or cremation). You'll also need to supply which (if any) religious emblem or additional inscription you would like on the headstone.
3. Decide which burial honors you would like for your loved one to receive (if eligible)
Learn whether or not your loved one is eligible for a burial flag from this website. This website also includes a link to the form that needs to be completed to receive this honor.
4. Contact the National Cemetery Scheduling office
The National Cemetery Scheduling office phone number is 800-535-1117. They are open every day (except major holidays) from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. E.T.
The scheduling office will tell you how to submit the required paperwork and forms. It will assist you with scheduling a funeral at a national cemetery.
5. Consult with the funeral home director
While we are happy to give you the resources you need so that your loved one receives the military honors that they are entitled to, you should also consider reaching out to the funeral home director.
Funeral home staff are well acquainted with the process and should be able to walk you through it.
6. Complete other funeral arrangements
Even if you choose to have your loved one buried in a national cemetery, many other details need to be decided upon when making arrangements for your loved one's funeral. From choosing the funeral flowers for the casket to determining who is to write the eulogy for the veteran, there's a lot to consider.
Again, the funeral home staff should give you some assistance with the process. Ask for a funeral planning guide so you can be reassured that you complete all the necessary details.
There's Help Available
There's a lot that goes into planning a funeral, especially if your loved one was an active or retired service person. Thankfully, there are a variety of resources available.
First, there are many articles about funeral planning available on Cake's blog. You can learn everything from funeral etiquette to popular songs or hymns for a religious funeral service.
Second, seek the help of your funeral director. They are a valuable resource for assisting you with resources that are available in your local area. Also, talk with the officiant or minister who will be taking care of many of the details for your loved one's funeral.
Finally, consult the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs website, specifically this page, that details the veteran's burial benefits. Before you wade through the details, make sure you have your loved one's military service records in front of you.
We understand that the grief you may be experiencing may leave you feeling like you cannot make even the smallest of decisions. Lean on professionals in your area and also your family and friends during this difficult time. They want to help.
- "National Cemetery Administration." U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs. www.cem.va.gov/cem/burial_benefits/index.asp.