The assembly of members of the honor guard and the solemn tones of the bugle accompany the laying to rest of many military veterans. With the words, “As a representative of the United States Army (Air Force/Navy/Marine Corps/Coast Guard), it is my high privilege to present you this flag. Let it be a symbol of the grateful appreciation this nation feels for the distinguished service rendered to our country and our flag by your loved one,” a United States flag is folded and respectfully handed to the next of kin.
There is a need for the Nation’s heroes to be laid to rest with dignity and respect. Under certain conditions, there is a provision for free burial and memorial benefits.
Eligibility for Military Burial
Burial and memorial benefits are available to the majority of veterans. Eligibility is based on membership of one of the following categories:
- President or former presidents of the United States, based on their service as commander in chief.
- Veterans who die while on active duty. This includes active duty for training for members of the reserves and National Guard.
- Veterans who have active-duty service on or before September 7, 1980 (enlisted), and on or before October 16, 1981 (officers), and have a discharge characterization that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doesn’t consider dishonorable.
- Veterans with service beginning after September 7, 1980, as an enlisted person, and service after October 16, 1981, as an officer, with at least 24 months of continuous, active-duty service.
- Members of the National Guard or Reserves who were called to active duty for less than 24 months and served during the entire period of the call-up.
- Reservists and National Guard members who, at the time of death, were entitled to retired pay, or would have been entitled, but for being under the age of 60.
- Reservists who die due to an injury or illness incurred or aggravated by military service.
Meeting Conditions for Burial Expenses
Once certain conditions have been met, some expenses related to the burial or internment of veterans in private cemeteries may be provided for. These conditions are in addition to the eligibility criteria for burial and at least one must apply:
- The veteran died because of a service-related disability.
- The veteran was receiving VA pension or compensation at the time of death.
- The veteran was entitled to receive VA pension or compensation, but decided not to reduce his military retirement or disability pay.
- The veteran died while hospitalized by the VA or while receiving care under VA contract at a non-VA facility.
- The veteran died while traveling under proper authorization and at VA expense to or from a specified place for the purpose of examination, treatment, or care.
- The veteran had an original or reopened claim pending at the time of death, and the VA ruled he was entitled to compensation or pension from a date before the date of death.
- The veteran died on or after October 9, 1996, while a patient at a VA-approved state nursing home.
On July 17, 1862, legislation was enacted that has allowed the purchase of approximately 17,000 acres of land for the purpose of interring “soldiers who have died in the service of the country.” In that first year, fourteen cemeteries were created growing to todays total. To date, these cemeteries provide the final resting ground for more than 3 million Americans. These veterans include over 300 recipients of the highest medal that our nation awards – the Medal of Honor – and soldiers from the Revolutionary War to the Gulf War.
There are 141 national cemeteries maintained by the VA throughout the United States and its Territories. For more information, as well as a list of the 141 national cemeteries please see:
Burial services provided in state cemeteries are provided not by the VA, but by the individual state. Exact services and costs involved may differ widely between states or even cemeteries in the same state. For more information please see:
Knowing What Honors are Provided
The folding and presentation of the flag, as well as the playing of the taps is the minimum legal performance of funeral honors allowed.
Taps: During a military funeral, there is a traditional bugle call played known as taps. It is still a requirement, if possible, that a bugler should play the call. However, in recent times there is a dearth of buglers and so electronic means provide taps. A final salute to the deceased veteran is performed by the honor guard throughout the call.
Flag folding: Before burial, the U.S. flag is taken from the casket and is somberly and symbolically folded. The process consists of 13 folds to depict the initial colonies and at the end forms a triangle reminiscent of the tri-cornered hats of Revolutionary War era soldiers. At this stage, there is no red or white stripes to be seen. Only the honor field of blue and white stars is visible.
Flag presentation: The representative of the parent branch of the armed services of the deceased will be given the flag and it is they who presents the flag to the next-of-kin with the words, “As a representative of the United States Army (Air Force/Navy/Marine Corps/Coast Guard), it is my high privilege to pre-sent you this flag. Let it be a symbol of the grateful appreciation this nation feels for the distinguished service rendered to our country and our flag by your loved one.”
In the absence of a next-of-kin, a loved one or friend may receive the flag instead.
Pallbearers: In addition to other funeral honors and provided that there are sufficient personnel, the honor guard may act as pallbearers at the request of the family.
Rifle volley: The deceased veteran may be honored with three volleys of shots, in accordance with family wishes and the availability of adequate means. This tradition is often erroneously referred to by non-military individuals as a 21-gun salute. Guns are not used , rather it is rifles that are fired. Any quantity of members can form a firing team, most typically consisting of seven or eight individuals. Regardless of their number, there are three distinct shots simultaneously from each member.
The three volleys are sourced in a particular battlefield tradition. A cease fire would be called to permit the collection of the dead soldiers from the field. Three volleys were fired to indicate that the dead had been correctly and respectfully looked after and hostilities could continue.
Frequently, three shell-casings are inserted into the folds of the flag before its presentation to symbolize the three volleys.
Arranging Military Funerals
The choice of funeral options made on the death of a veteran can be stressful and confusing to some. For help on some of the next steps in the process please see: