What You Should Know About Military Funerals
Attending or planning a military funeral, especially as a civilian, can feel daunting if you’ve never been part of a military tradition before. Military funerals are structured, formal, and focused on honoring the fallen service member. It’s important to know what to expect when attending one so as not to disrespect the honor guard participating, the deceased, or the family of the deceased. If you’re in charge of planning a military funeral, you’ll definitely want to make sure you’re including and accounting for the traditional funeral honors present at military services.
Traditional funeral honors
By law, at least two uniformed servicemen are required to attend the funeral and present the traditional funeral honors awarded to veterans. The two main funeral honors that a veteran receives are the folding of the flag and the playing of “Taps”, the standard military funeral song.
Taps, the official military funeral song
Taps is officially known as the “National Song of Military Remembrance” and is standard at military funerals. Ideally, Taps would be played at the military funeral by a live bugler, which is customary. If a live bugler isn’t available, playing an audio recording of Taps is acceptable.
The folding of the flag
Before the flag is folded, it will be draped over the closed casket. If there is no casket, the flag will already be in the traditional tricorn military fold.
The ceremony of the folding of the flag involves a service member folding the flag in a military fold and presenting it to the recipient. The standard folded flag is not buried alongside the deceased. (To request a burial flag, the family needs to contact the VA and fill out the appropriate form. Burial flags are provided to the recipient at no cost.)
The following language is used when the flag is presented to the recipient:
“On behalf of the President of the United States, (the United States Army; the United States Marine Corps; the United States Navy; the United States Air Force or the United States Coast Guard), and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”
Other funeral honors
The folding of the flag and sounding of Taps are standard at military funerals, regardless of rank or service status of the veteran. However, there are additional military funeral honors that can take place depending on the rank of the veteran and whether or not they were active duty. These military ceremonies aren’t available at all military funerals due to the number of deceased and amount of resources available.
In a rifle detail, seven to eight service members will fire their rifle a total of three times each, which is also known as a rifle volley. The rifle volley is only performed at the family’s request and is meant to honor the deceased.
If the family requests it and there are available service members, members of the honor guard (those performing the military funeral honors) can act as pallbearers for the deceased.
A caisson is a two wheeled cart drawn by two sets of horses: riderless horses on the right and horses with servicemen on the left. Caissons were originally used to transport ammunition and the bodies of fallen soldiers off of the battlefield. The caisson is awarded to servicemen who receive full military honors.
Military flyovers are not traditionally part of a military funeral, but can be requested by the family. Military flyovers can be requested by calling 866-826-3628 and by filling out a form, which you can find on the relevant website of the branch the deceased served in. Though a military flyover is a possibility, the request being granted comes down to a number of factors including weather, service status, rank, and other factors related to the deceased.
General military funeral expectations
Tone: The overall tone at a military funeral is quiet, somber and contemplative.
Attire: Military personnel should wear their “Dress Uniform” to a military funeral and civilians should dress respectfully. For civilian men, a suit and tie or slacks and a nice button up shirt is acceptable. For civilian women, dresses, suits, slacks, and blouses are appropriate.
Saluting: While many feel that saluting is a way to show respect, performing a salute incorrectly (especially at a military funeral) is seen as a sign of disrespect. If you’re not a service member, you should not salute. If you’re a service member, here are the times it’s acceptable to salute: When / if the hearse passes by Whenever the casket itself is moved During the playing of the Taps During the rifle salute, if used When the casket is lowered into the plot
Does the military pay for funerals for veterans?
The military pays for funerals for veterans in the form of a burial allowance. Additionally, almost all veterans can receive military funeral honors for free, which usually includes headstones, medallions, and other memorial items.
VA funeral benefits
Eligible service members can receive benefits from the VA to help cover funeral expenses. The amount of money you can receive depends on a number of factors, including whether the veteran was in VA hospice care at the time of death and whether the death was or wasn’t service-related.
For a service-related death, the VA can pay up to $2000 to cover funeral expenses and will also cover the cost of transportation, as well as some additional expenses. For more information about VA benefits, head to their website.
If the death was non-service related and the Veteran was hospitalized by the VA at the time of death, the VA will pay up to $796 towards funeral expenses.
Here’s how to apply for VA Benefits:
- Apply online.
- Find & work with a representative in person.
- Turn in your application at a local regional benefit office.
- Mail a completed application to your VA pension management center.
While the VA benefits for a funeral are nontrivial, they are still often not enough to cover the full cost of a funeral, especially if the family is holding a traditional funeral service. A traditional funeral in the United States will cost around $9,000, which is more than most families can reasonably afford, even with support from the VA. If you need additional financial support, starting up a memorial fundraiser is an efficient way to collect donations from those who want to help cover the costs of a funeral. Memorial fundraisers have helped countless families pay for funerals, which relieves them of the financial burden and lets them mourn the loss of a loved one. You can set up a memorial fundraiser and start sharing it in less than 10 minutes.