Our veterans deserve to be honored and recognized for their sacrifices. This is especially true after they pass away, whether that death was service related or not. Veterans and their families may be able to receive monetary allowances to reimburse certain burial related expenses, honorary tributes as part of a funeral or memorial service, and special memorial and keepsake items. These benefits are intended to help honor the veteran’s life and express gratitude for their contributions to our nation.
Veteran eligibility is typically verified using a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, commonly known as DD Form 214. Prior to 1950, several similar forms were used by different branches of the military to document military service and separation periods. If the DD Form 214 is not available, any document showing end of service terms other than dishonorable discharge may be used to confirm benefit eligibility. You may also request a replacement DD Form 214 by following the instructions from the Department of Veterans Affairs provided on their website.
A veteran must be eligible to receive burial benefits, death benefits, and memorial items. Eligibility may vary based on the specific benefit being applied for, however it is generally based on the following criteria:
Generally those veterans who are not eligible include:
A burial allowance, also sometimes called a “veterans death benefit”, may be available to help offset any burial, funeral, and transportation costs related to a veteran’s death. You will need to pay for these services in advance and then apply for the allowance, however it is an option if these expenses are not being reimbursed by another agency or the veteran’s employer.
The amount of a burial allowance varies based on the veteran’s date of death and whether the death was service related. There is also an additional allowance amount for a headstone or marker. Your funeral director can help you determine eligibility and the amount of any potential allowances. You can also find more information regarding burial allowances here.
All eligible veterans are entitled to standard Military Funeral Honors (MFH) during their funeral or memorial service. This ceremony includes traditions for military honors that are deeply meaningful and symbolic to our service members and their loved ones. The elements of the standard MFH ceremony typically include the following components:
For a service with an urn, the flag will already be folded and carried next to the urn in a manner similar to ceremonies involving casketed remains. When the urn comes to its place of rest, the flag will be unfolded and ceremoniously held over the urn. It will then be folded again before the next part of the service.
Once the flag is folded, it will be presented to the family or other representative of the Veteran. The flag is intended to be a keepsake for the family and a long lasting tribute to remember the sacrifices made by the Veteran and their family. Many families choose to display the flag in a special flag case. There are also flag case urns designed to hold cremated remains while protecting the flag.
In addition to the standard MFH, some veterans may qualify for additional honors based on their rank. Full MFH may include elements such as a military flyover, color guard, and a rifle salute. To receive Military Funeral Honors, the required documentation must be submitted as soon as possible to provide sufficient time to organize resources. Your funeral home or funeral director can help with completing the correct forms and getting them submitted to the correct agency. You can also reach out to the Department of Defense with questions regarding the Military Funeral Honors program on their website.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides a United States flag at no cost to the next-of-kin of a deceased veteran. The flag is provided as a keepsake designed to honor the memory of the veteran. It is typically used during the funeral or memorial service during the flag folding and presentation ceremony detailed above before being presented to the family or next-of-kin.
Family members or close friends of the veteran may apply for a burial flag if the veteran meets one of the following eligibility requirements:
Who Can Receive a Burial Flag and How Do You Apply?
Burial flags are usually presented to the family or next-of-kin of the veteran following the flag ceremony during a funeral or memorial service. If there is no next-of-kin to receive the flag, it will be given to whoever submits the application requesting the flag, generally a friend or non-family member.
To receive a burial flag, you need to complete and submit the Application for a United States Flag for Burial Purposes, the VA Form 27-2008. You may take the completed form to your funeral director, the regional VA office in your area, or any United States Post Office. It is recommended that you call ahead to confirm your local post office has burial flags on hand; otherwise they can direct you to a location that does.
Suggestions for Burial Flag Display and Care
The VA is only able to supply one flag per veteran and replacement flags are not available. Some veterans organizations or groups may be able to help you acquire a new flag if the original one is lost, damaged, or destroyed, but you should take care to protect the original flag as much as possible. Burial flags are intended to be a symbolic keepsake and not meant to be displayed outside long term. Once the flag is used in the funeral ceremony, it should be left in the folded state and protected in an inside location.
Most families choose to display the flag in a safe place where it can serve as a memento and keepsake to help preserve the memory of the veteran. A flag case or urn designed to hold ashes while displaying the flag can be a very meaningful keepsake for many people. Some families choose to donate their flag to the Avenue of Flags program at their local national cemetery where it will be flown on patriotic holidays in honor of all deceased veterans.
The burial flag application listed above provides more comprehensive information about applying for a burial flag, who is eligible to receive a flag, and guidelines for use and care of the flag.
The VA will provide a free Government headstone or marker for any unmarked grave of an eligible veteran at any cemetery around the world, regardless of their date of death. For eligible veterans who passed away on or after November 1, 1990, a headstone or marker can be provided even if there is a private headstone or marker already in place. Headstones and markers are generally made of granite, marble, or bronze and the applicant can select the type of marker they’d prefer, whether flat or upright. Depending on the cemetery or place of burial, there may be specific restrictions and requirements for any headstones or markers that must be followed. For veterans choosing to be cremated, the VA can also provide a niche marker designed to accompany cremated remains placed in a columbarium.
For burials occurring in a national cemetery, state veteran’s cemetery, or at a military base or post cemetery, any headstones or markers will be ordered by the cemetery officials based on information provided by the next of kin or other representative of the veteran. Headstones and markers are not provided for the spouse or children of the veteran unless those family members are being buried with the veteran in a national cemetery, state Veteran’s cemetery, or on a military base or post.
The veteran’s family may be responsible for any fees associated with or charges incurred from placing the headstone or marker in a private cemetery, such as setting fees or cemetery expenses.
A Presidential Memorial Certificate is an engraved paper certificate signed by the current president, intended to honor the memory of the veteran. Certificates are available for eligible veterans, and also any family members and close friends who request one. For veterans buried in a national cemetery, a certificate will be automatically presented to the family.
You can request a certificate by completing the required form and submitting it along with copies of the appropriate discharge documents and a copy of the death certificate. The funeral home you are working with can also help you with this process.
Eligible veterans may be entitled to burial in a VA national cemetery, along with their surviving spouse and children of the veteran in certain situations. Cremated remains may still be buried or interred in a VA national cemetery in the same manner as a traditional casketed burial, including any honors that may be rendered during the service.
The following benefits are included with burial in a VA national cemetery and are provided at no cost to the family of the veteran:
VA cemeteries only allow arrangements to be made at the time of death and therefore you may not reserve a space in advance. However, you can apply for and obtain a Certificate of Eligibility to inform the state of any intentions to be buried in a VA cemetery within that state. While specific plots cannot be reserved, you are able to reserve a space adjacent to the plot for burial of a spouse or minor child next to the veteran. Also be aware that there are frequently waiting periods before a burial in a VA cemetery can take place, as the VA needs time to confirm a decedent’s eligibility. This process can be helped by making sure the family has all of the necessary documentation and by obtaining pre-need burial eligibility confirmation when possible.