All About Military Funeral Honors (and How to Get Them)

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From home loans to education benefits and subsidized healthcare, the U.S. military is committed to helping its own. This extends after a service member or veteran dies, through funeral, memorial, and burial benefits, including military funeral honors. Here’s what you can expect in terms of support when you or a loved one passes away.  

Eligibility

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers memorial and burial benefits for active duty and veteran members of the five branches of the Armed Forces. All service members who sacrifice their lives while on active duty and veterans (excluding those dishonorably discharged) are eligible. Reservists and National Guard members who were entitled to retirement pay are also eligible (typically those serving for at least 25 years).

Military funeral honors

When requested by the family (the funeral director can do this for you), the Department of Defense provides a committal service that includes an honor guard with at least two members of the Armed Forces, one of whom must represent the deceased’s service of record. The service also includes the playing of “Taps” and the folding and presentation of the United States flag to surviving loved ones.

Burial benefits in a national cemetery

Standard burial benefits for those eligible include:

National military cemetery grave site

There are more than 120 national military cemeteries, and currently, 83 cemeteries have openings for new burials, while an additional 21 are accepting cremated remains only. There is no charge to the family for the service person’s grave site. Veterans’ spouses and dependent children (under 21, or under 23 if a student) may also be buried in one of these cemeteries, for a fee. One grave site is provided for all eligible family members unless there were multiple veterans, in which case side-by-side plots and headstones are issued upon request. Cremated and casketed remains are buried or interred (or scattered) in the same manner and with the same honors. Grave sites cannot be selected in advance and are assigned at random.   

Headstone or marker

The government also issues a headstone/marker to denote the service person’s final resting place at any cemetery in the world. A standard inscription includes name, branch of service, and years of birth/death, but additional text can be added, including military rank, awards and organizations, and terms of endearment. Dependents’ names can be inscribed at no cost on the veteran’s headstone, even if they precede the veteran in death. For those whose remains are scattered at sea or otherwise laid to rest outside of a cemetery, the VA offers the option of “In Memory Of” markers.

Burial flags

These are provided to drape the coffin or the urn of those who meet specific requirements, such as service during wartime or after 1955. Following the ceremony, the flag is present to the service member’s next of kin.  

Presidential recognition

The Presidential Memorial Certificate is an engraved certificate, signed by the current president. President John F. Kennedy started this tradition in 1962 to offer thanks for a veteran’s service and honor their memory.

Burial benefits in a private cemetery

Many service members may prefer to be buried in a private cemetery alongside other family members. If so, some burial benefits still apply for veterans (but not their dependents). The VA will provide the headstone, flag, and Presidential Certificate, and some veterans are eligible for a burial allowance.

A family preparing for a private memorial service can request a government medallion for placement in a private cemetery. The medallion can be affixed to a grave marker or headstone.

Some private cemeteries offer free plots for veterans, but ask these questions:

  • Is the family required to purchase additional sites?   
  • Are there any restrictions on the types of headstones or grave markers?
  • If using a free government headstone, are there charges for its placement or care?
  • Are there additional charges, such as a grave liner container or specific burial services?

Reimbursement for burial costs

When death is service-related (during combat, as a result of a service-related disability, while in the care of a VA hospital, etc.), the VA provides a burial allowance of up to $2,000. These funds can be applied to burial-related expenses, such as embalming or cremation, flowers, or obituaries. Reimbursement for burial costs for a non-service-related death is $300, plus roughly $750 for a burial plot (if the veteran is buried outside of a national cemetery). If the death is service-related, the cost of transporting the deceased’s remains is covered by the government. But even in a non-service-related death, some of the cost may be covered if the burial takes place in a national cemetery.   

If you’re a veteran or a veteran’s family member who is planning for final expenses, contact the National Cemetery Administration (part of the VA). They will help you assure eligibility in advance, make headstone/marker decisions, and be better prepared overall.

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