The death of a service member is an occasion to honor that person's memory, thank them for their sacrifice and provide comfort and support to survivors. To ensure that fallen service members receive dignified burial services and recognition and to help care for survivors in their time of loss, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD) offer many valuable and meaningful benefits.
Initial services provided by DoD or VA
In the event of an active duty service member's death, a Casualty Assistance Officer (CAO) from the Army, a Casualty Assistance Call Officer (CACO) from the Navy or Marine Corps, or a Casualty Assistance Representative (CAR) from the Air Force helps the family make arrangements for burial. This person can provide information on benefits and services available through the VA, DoD, and the member's Service branch.
The remains of all service members are handled with dignity and the utmost care. If the service member dies while on active duty or active duty for training, DoD assumes responsibility for the preparation, casketing, and transportation of the remains. When the family wishes to make private arrangements for burial, DoD may reimburse the family up to a set amount, depending on the conditions selected for burial. Surviving family members are encouraged to discuss funeral and burial arrangements with their CAO prior to making plans. Families are provided the following initial services in relation to the deceased:
- recovery, evacuation, and initial identification of remains
- return of personal effects (a legal representative of the service member’s estate is entitled to the personal effects; if no such person is identified, the primary next of kin (PNOK) is entitled to them and decides where they will be shipped or stored)
- transportation of the deceased service member's remains to the burial site
- temporary interment (only if absolutely necessary)
- transportation of immediate family members to the burial site
- preparation and casketing of the service member
- when eligible, burial in a gravesite in a national or private cemetery with available space; cremated remains are buried or inurned (placed into urns) in cemeteries in the same manner and with the same honors as casketed remains
For families who are eligible for the VA Burial Allowance benefit, the reimbursement amount varies depending on whether the veteran's death was service-related or non-service related, as well as when the death occurred. Check the VA Burial Allowance website for more information.
DoD provides for the transport, interment, and perpetual care of the service member's remains and authorizes travel entitlements for the surviving spouse, children, siblings of the service member, parents of both the service member and the surviving spouse, and the person authorized to direct disposition of human remains. The travel entitlement includes round-trip transportation and two days of per diem at the interment site as well as transportation to unit or installation memorial services and to Dover Air Force Base to observe the dignified transfer of loved ones who die in the theater of combat operations.
In the case of a wounded, ill, or injured service member, transportation of family members to the service member's bedside will be paid by the DoD.
DoD and the VA offer the following services and honors to assist family members and recognize fallen service members:
Military Funeral Honors
Provided by DoD at no cost to the family, military funeral honors provide a final "thank you" to veterans who have defended the nation. Military funeral honors consist of, at minimum, military representation (at least two service members, including one representative of the deceased veteran's parent Service), ceremonial folding and presentation of the American flag to the next of kin and the sounding of "Taps." Additional elements such as a firing party or color guard may also be included. For more information, visit the Military Funeral Honors website.
Burial flags are American flags, provided at no cost, that drape the casket or urn of a service member who served honorably in the military. The flag honors the memory of the veteran's service to the country and is presented to the PNOK; additional flags may be presented to other family members by the government. The family member should contact the unit providing funeral honors to make this arrangement.
Lapel Button, Gold Star Lapel Button
The Lapel Button is presented to the next of kin (NOK) of a service member who dies in an active duty (non-combat-related) status. The star within the circle commemorates honorable service; the sprigs of oak represent the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force. The Gold Star Lapel Button is provided to the NOK of service members who died in combat-related situations.
Presidential Memorial Certificate (PMC)
Provided by the VA, the PMC is a gold-embossed paper certificate, signed by the President of the United States, to honor the memory of honorably discharged veterans. The PMC is available to the next of kin and loved ones of deceased service members.
The VA's burial services for eligible veterans include a gravesite at any VA national cemetery (based on space).
Government-furnished headstones and markers
Upon request, the VA will furnish, at no charge, a government headstone or marker for the grave of any deceased eligible veteran in any cemetery around the world. Headstones and markers are also available for eligible spouses and dependents of veterans in a national, military post/base, or state veterans cemetery. More information on government-furnished headstones and markers can be found on the National Cemetery Administration website.
Details about the VA's burial services are available on the VA's Burial and Memorials webpage.
Eligibility for benefits
In general, any service member discharged under conditions other than dishonorable is eligible to receive DoD and/or VA funeral and burial benefits.
Military Funeral Honors
Service members who meet any of the following requirements are eligible to receive Military Funeral Honors: service members on active duty or in the Selected Reserve, former service members who served on active duty and departed under conditions other than dishonorable, former service members who completed at least one term of enlistment in the Selected Reserve and departed under conditions other than dishonorable, and former service members in the Selected Reserve who were discharged due to a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty. Service members who have been convicted of a capital offense under federal or state law will be denied Military Funeral Honors.
VA Burial Allowance
The VA Burial Allowance is a partial reimbursement of an eligible veteran's burial and funeral costs. To be eligible for this allowance, all of the following conditions must be met: the funeral or the burial for the veteran has already been paid for by the family, the family has not been reimbursed for the funeral or burial by another government agency or any other source, and the veteran was not discharged under dishonorable conditions. Additionally, at least one of the following conditions must be met: the veteran died due to 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 opted not to reduce his or her military retirement pay or disability pay; or the veteran died in a VA hospital, a nursing home under VA contract, or in an approved state nursing home.
The next of kin of any service member discharged under conditions other than dishonorable are eligible to receive the burial flag. When there are no next of kin, the VA will provide it to a friend upon request.
Government-furnished headstones and markers
Government-furnished headstones and markers are available at no cost to deceased veterans of the military Services who have been discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. Service members who have served only in limited active duty for training status in the National Guard or Reserves are not eligible unless there are special circumstances (i.e., death while on duty as a result of training). Service members with twenty or more years of service in the National Guard or Reserves who are entitled to retirement benefits are also entitled to a government headstone or marker.