Losing a loved one during active military service can be one of the hardest things to come to terms with for families left behind. In addition to coping with the loss, families also have to deal with organizing the funeral arrangements.
Military members are eligible for different funeral benefits, which, though helpful, can add an extra layer of complexity to the planning process.
Whether you've recently lost a family member or are planning ahead of time for a veteran or active service member, here are some things to keep in mind when setting up a military funeral.
Military Funeral Honors
US law mandates the rendering of military funeral honors free of charge for an eligible veteran. The honors include at least two members of the armed forces in the honor guard vigil, the presenting of the American flag to the next of kin, and the playing of Taps, at a minimum.
Military members who qualify for funeral honors are:
Members on active duty or in the Selected Reserve
Former members who served on active duty and departed under honorable conditions
Former members who completed at least one term of enlistment or period of initial obligated service in the Selected Reserve and departed under honorable conditions
Former members discharged from the Selected Reserve due to a disability aggravated or incurred in the line of duty
You may use the DD Form 214 (aka "DD214"), Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty to verify eligibility for military funeral honors. You may also use any other discharge document. Generally, the funeral director arranges the honors, rather than the next of kin.
Planning the Funeral
If your loved one has recently died, and you do not have pre-arrangements in place, you will have to gather documents to identify the deceased, including the DD214 form. In addition to the basic information about the deceased, you may also need to provide information on the deceased's spouse or children, as well as information about the deceased's next-of-kin.
When planning the funeral details, you'll need to decide:
Disposition preference of burial or cremation
The type of burial or cremation (in-ground or above ground)
The type of grave marker, headstone, or memorial, if applicable
If you're interested in additional military honors
If you'd like a burial flag and/or Presidential Memorial Certificate
If you are working with a funeral director, they can help with planning and making any additional arrangements, such as obtaining the burial flag. For burial in a national cemetery, you will also need to complete additional applications to reserve a plot for burial.
Preparing for Costs
The average funeral cost in the US is between $7,000 and $10,000. This could include the cost of funeral home services, a casket, cemetery costs, a headstone or other grave marker, and other third-party costs for a burial. Altogether, this can be a substantial expense. If you are making advance preparations for a funeral, you can start to set aside money so that your loved one gets the service he or she desires.
To help with part of the expense, The US Department of Veterans Affairs will provide some funding for military burials. The funding is flat rate and depends on whether the veteran's death occurred during or outside of military service. The maximum allowance for service-connected deaths is currently $2,000, and the maximum allowance for after-service-connected deaths is currently $300. Your funeral director can help you determine if you are eligible for reimbursement by the VA.
You can save on funeral costs for veterans by selecting space in a national or state-run veterans cemetery. This eliminates the need to purchase a cemetery plot and opening and closing fees which can be thousands of dollars for each. The spouse of the veteran and certain dependent children also are entitled to a space in a veterans cemetery.
It is never easy to say goodbye to a loved one, and military deaths can be some of the most painful losses. While you may not want to consider the possibility, a little planning in advance goes a long way to making the military funeral process move smoothly so that you can properly honor your loved ones.
Here are some more resources about military funerals and burials to help you in your planning.