The Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs ensure that service members who die on active duty receive recognition and dignified burial services. The departments also offer help for their survivors. In general, any honorably discharged service member is eligible to receive DOD or VA funeral and burial benefits. A dishonorable discharge makes a service member ineligible for those benefits. It is Defense Department policy that all service members’ remains are handled with dignity, honor and respect.
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How this benefit helps
Finding comfort through support
This benefit provides comfort to service members and helps survivors navigate the support and services available should their loved one die.
Mortuary services provided for active-duty deaths include:
- Recovery, evacuation, transportation and 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 is entitled to them and decides where they will be shipped or stored.
- Preparation and casketing of the service member.
- Transport of the deceased service member’s remains to the burial site.
- Transport of immediate family members to the burial site.
- When eligible, burial in a gravesite in a national or private cemetery (dependent on available space). Cremated remains are buried or placed into urns in cemeteries in the same manner and with the same honors as casketed remains.
How to access this benefit
Below is a list of services designed to help survivors if their active-duty service member dies.Military funeral honors procedures
At a minimum, military funeral honors consists of:
- 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
- Playing of Taps
Provided at no cost, these drape the casket or may be displayed folded next to the urn of a service member who served honorably in the military.Lapel buttons
These symbolize our appreciation of service members’ bravery and sacrifice to their country.
Presidential Memorial Certificate
- The Gold Star Lapel Button is provided to the next of kin of service members who lost their lives while engaged in military actions against a foreign enemy.
- The Next of Kin Lapel Button is provided to the families of service members who lost their lives while on active duty or while serving in a drill status as a member of the National Guard or reserves.
The Presidential Memorial Certificate is a gold-embossed paper certificate provided by the VA to the next of kin and loved ones of deceased service members. It is signed by the president of the United States to honor the memory of honorably discharged veterans.Government-furnished gravesiteGovernment-furnished headstones and markers
The VA will furnish a free 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 installation or state veteran cemetery.
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers urns and commemorative plaques to families who choose not to bury their veteran, but it means that they forfeit their government-issued headstone.
Military funeral honors, a hero’s tribute
Your loved one’s sacrifice will never be forgotten. This video, which includes a poem titled “A Hero’s Grace,” honors their sacrifice and faithful service. It also provides an overview for funeral planners of military funeral honors elements.