What to Remember When Planning a Military Funeral
Learn how to request military funeral honors, obtain a veterans’ cemetery burial, and more
Whether you’re preplanning your own military funeral or making arrangements for a veteran who has passed, remember to research the benefits that are available to you. A variety of U.S. government programs honor and aid service members and their survivors.
Government funds are available to assist with veterans’ funeral expenses, and free services and programs support relatives left behind. But military benefits may not cover everything. If you’re preplanning, you may want to consider Final Expense Whole Life or Preneed Funeral insurance to protect your family from undue financial stress during the grieving process.
Types of military benefits
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers free bereavement counseling to families who’ve lost a loved one on active military duty. Spouses, children, and parents of service members, reservists, and National Guard soldiers are eligible for this program.
Grief support for families of discharged military personnel can be found through dedicated nonprofit organizations. For example, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) serves anyone who has lost a military loved one, regardless of their relationship to the deceased or the circumstances of the death.
Military funeral honors
All active service members and veterans who did not receive a dishonorable discharge are entitled to free military funeral honors. That is regardless of rank and includes veterans who served in the Selected Reserves and anyone discharged due to disability. The ceremony involves draping an American flag over the casket or beside the urn, and after Taps is played, two uniformed military personnel will honor the veteran by folding the flag and presenting it to the next of kin. Your funeral director can make arrangements for this ceremony upon request.
If you’re the surviving spouse, designated family representative, or the legal executor of a veteran’s estate, the VA may provide you with an allowance to help pay for your loved one’s burial, plot, and funeral costs. The amount you receive is dependent on whether the death was connected to service, if the deceased was hospitalized by the VA, and other factors.
Most veterans will qualify for a free burial in a VA national cemetery, provided they weren’t dishonorably discharged. National cemetery benefits include the opening and closing of the grave, a burial liner provided by the government, a headstone or grave marker, and perpetual care of the gravesite. Interment of an eligible veteran is authorized in any of the national cemeteries the VA maintains across the country.
VA national cemetery plots can’t be reserved in advance. Final arrangements can only be made through a funeral home after the veteran has passed. However, it is possible to clarify your eligibility in advance by applying for a preneed determination of eligibility. The preneed determination applies only to national cemeteries. If you’d prefer to be buried in a state or tribal veterans’ cemetery, contact the specific cemetery directly to discuss options.
Veteran’s headstone or grave marker
Even if you choose to be buried in a private cemetery, the VA will furnish a veteran’s headstone or grave marker to your family at no cost. Headstones and markers in bronze, granite, or marble are available. If you decide to purchase your own headstone or marker, you can request a free bronze medallion to affix to it. Medallions are inscribed with the word “Veteran” at the top and include the individual’s branch of service at the bottom. You can also request a Presidential Memorial Certificate, commemorating the late veteran’s service, as a keepsake.
How to secure military benefits
To secure any military benefits, families will need to produce their service member’s military discharge papers, a copy of the veteran’s death certificate, and any receipts for the cost of transporting the body. If you’re a veteran, you can help your family by locating your discharge papers now and letting your loved ones know where you’ve stored them.
Covering additional costs
Active duty service members serving in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard are automatically enrolled in a military life insurance plan, known as Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI). Some National Guard personnel and other categories of service members also qualify. When individuals are discharged from the military, they can apply to convert the SGLI to Veterans Groups Life Insurance or a commercial policy.
If you’re preplanning, you may want to consider Final Expense Whole Life or Preneed Funeral insurance to cover the gaps that military benefits don’t include. Final Expense insurance allows your family to decide how to dispense the money, which can be used for medical bills, loan balances, and estate settlement expenses. If they choose to use it for your funeral, they can make arrangements with any funeral home.
Preneed Funeral insurance helps your family handle funeral arrangements and expenses. When you create a Preneed policy, you consult directly with funeral home staff to determine in advance what kind of military service and burial you would like. The funeral home tallies the costs for your wishes, and a policy is written that covers only that amount. At the time of your death, the insurance company makes a payment directly to the funeral home to cover the funeral expenses. Planning the details yourself gives you an opportunity to shape how you’ll be remembered at your military funeral and alleviate the financial burden for your family.
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Photo credit: Alan Crosthwaite