Planning a Military Funeral
Whether you are a veteran pre-planning your own funeral or a family member arranging funeral services for a loved one who was in the military, funeral planning can be a complicated process. By law, most active-duty service members and veterans can be buried in a national cemetery and receive certain military honors, all at the government’s expense. However, as is typically the case in military matters, there are eligibility requirements that must be met and protocols that must be followed.
You likely have many questions about the process of planning a military funeral. In this article, we attempt to answer some of the queries most likely to arise during the planning process.
What Does the Law Say About Military Funeral Planning?
The federal Military Defense Authorization Act, which took effect in the year 2000, requires that the Department of Defense make military funeral benefits available for eligible service members and veterans at the family’s request.
Are Military Funeral Benefits Provided Automatically?
Family members (or veterans involved in funeral pre-planning) must specifically request funeral benefits from the government. The DOD does not provide them automatically, and veterans and family members may opt-out of them if desired. It is the responsibility of those planning funeral services to make the request. However, if an eligible veteran or family member requests military funeral benefits, the government must provide them free of charge.
What Service Members Are Eligible?
Military funeral honors are available to members of all branches of the service, provided that the individual served for at least 90 days. If not an active-duty service member, the individual must have separated from the service under conditions other than dishonorable. Veterans convicted of federal or state capital offenses who receive the death penalty or are sentenced to life imprisonment are not eligible for funeral honors.
What Funeral Benefits Are Available?
The funeral honors available to fallen service members vary somewhat on the basis of rank and branch of service. However, the following benefits are available to all eligible veterans at baseline:
- Interment or inurnment at a national cemetery where there is space available
- An honor detail made up of at least two uniformed military persons, one of whom belongs the decedent’s branch of service
- A burial flag to be folded and presented to the decedent’s family
- A rendition of “Taps”
It is appropriate to augment the honor detail with members of veterans’ service organizations, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion, in addition to the two military persons required by law. If available, a live bugler may play “Taps.” Otherwise, it is appropriate to play a recorded version.
In addition to these honors, it is possible to request a firing party for officers and enlisted personnel. A military chaplain may preside over the services upon request. Navy veterans may request burial at sea.
How Do You Request Funeral Honors?
In order to request military funeral benefits for yourself or a family member who was a veteran, you must first provide proof that the individual separated from the military under conditions other than dishonorable. You need a particular form to establish this called a DD214. If you do not have the form available, you may request a copy from the National Archives. You can receive the DD214 electronically or through the mail service.
Once you have the DD214 form available, you can present it to the funeral home that handles the services. The staff will then make the necessary arrangements on your behalf.
Wujek-Calcaterra Expresses Our Gratitude
A military funeral is a ceremonial way of expressing the deep gratitude that all Americans owe to those who served their country faithfully. At Wujek Calcaterra & Sons, we are proud of the part we play in this final demonstration of respect to veterans and their families. You can contact us for more information about military funeral planning.