Your casualty assistance officer or mortuary officer is there to assist you with making funeral and final arrangements in honor of your loved one’s service and sacrifice. He or she can provide you with available interment options (placing decedent in a grave, urn or above-ground burial site) provided by the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs.
The CAO or mortuary officer will help with the government entitlements and reimbursements for the costs of these services. When a service member dies on active duty, the DOD will pay the funeral and interment expenses, which also includes the following benefits:
Feeling lost in grief?
Receive the support you and your family need while coping with grief and loss with the following resources:
- Preparation of remains
- Casketing and inurning
- Interment in a Department of Veterans Affairs- or DOD-administered national cemetery, military service-administered cemetery, state or private cemetery
In a Department of Veterans Affairs- or Department of Defense-administered national cemetery, or military service-administered cemetery, the government will provide a headstone, vault, and opening and closing of the grave or niche.
Deciding whether to view the remains. A licensed mortician will provide a professional recommendation whether you should view the remains. The professional recommendation by the licensed mortician does not determine whether or not the family can view their loved one. The choice is the family’s to make. However, if the remains are deemed hazardous, certain Public Health Laws may prevent viewing of the remains.
Making travel arrangements to the interment site. The government will provide transportation to the interment site for the deceased active-duty (or prisoner of war/missing in action) service member’s immediate family, including the surviving spouse, children, siblings, parents, the surviving spouse’s parents, and the person authorized to direct disposition of remains. Family travel only applies to active-duty and past-conflict service member interments. Your casualty assistance officer or mortuary officer only collects the necessary information to book family travel. Neither the CAO nor the mortuary officer will arrange any travel. The Casualty Assistance Office will generate travel arrangements.
Arranging for military funeral honors. Your CAO will be able to discuss with you any military honors and funeral benefits due to your service member. If you would like military funeral honors, your funeral planner, director, CAO, or mortuary officer will arrange for the funeral honors detail, obtain interment flags and coordinate the presentation of the flags and flag cases and other awards.
Choosing interment in a national, military, state or private cemetery. Funeral establishments reserve the right to request funeral expenses upfront. However, it is the family’s responsibility to either pay the expenses and wait for reimbursement or chose another funeral establishment.
If you choose to make interment arrangements at a private cemetery, you may be reimbursed for usual and customary expenses. Your casualty assistance officer can provide more information on what expenses are and how much is reimbursable before you make any arrangements, and can assist you with filing the claim.
Check with your CAO or mortuary officer to see if your service will take care of the funeral and interment expenses directly with the funeral home and cemetery of your choosing instead of you having to pay all expenses upfront. Funeral establishments reserve the right to request funeral expenses upfront. However, it is the family’s responsibility to either pay the expenses and wait for reimbursement or chose another funeral establishment.
If your loved one did not specify their wishes for final disposition, you will need to select that for them. Each cemetery may have rules as to what type of disposition they allow at their site. Your CAO or mortuary officer can help guide you to find the cemetery that can perform the disposition you select. Keep in mind that different dispositions and cemetery options have different timelines.
Types of preparation for disposition include:
- Anatomical gifts include donating your loved one’s organs or tissues to help save others before final disposition. This is another way to keep your loved one’s memory alive.
- Embalming is a process preserving your loved one’s body by using specific chemicals. This option can allow for open-casket viewing during a funeral service.
- Cremation is the process where the body is reduced to a fine powder through intense heat and processing and placed in a container or urn.
The following list provides descriptions of many, but not all, disposition options, including:
- Earth burial is where your loved one’s body is placed in a casket in the ground. This may or may not involve embalming the body. However, if your loved one passes away in another state or country, laws may require embalming.
- Natural burial is ecofriendly and where your loved one’s body is placed in the ground without a casket or liner and without embalming. However, if your loved one passes away in another state or country, laws may require embalming.
- Above-ground burial is also called entombment. This option requires the purchase of a crypt within a mausoleum.
- Cremation with above-ground burial places your loved one’s cremated remains in an urn above ground in a columbarium wall niche.
- Cremation with ground burial places your loved one’s cremated remains in an urn vault that is then buried in the ground.
- Cremation with the scattering of ashes can be done on land or over water. You should seek permission from the owner or manager of the land on which you wish to scatter.
- Cremation water burial can include using a biodegradable, water soluble urn. To scatter at sea, you must be at least three nautical miles out from shore. The Navy and Coast Guard have burial at sea programs at no charge to the family. Private companies can provide burial at sea services; however, there is usually a charge.
- Cremation with urn at home allows you to keep your loved one’s remains with you in your home.
- Burial at sea occurs with casketed or cremated remains and is performed on a United States Navy ships during deployment. Because of this, family members cannot attend.
- Living memorials include memorial tree urns allow the cremated ashes to nourish the growth of a tree.
- Other unique dispositions include using remains to create a coral reef, an hour glass, a diamond, mixed in paint/ink used to create a portrait or tattoo, or placed in a teddy bear.
If you have specific requests for your loved one’s funeral ceremony and final disposition, ask your CAO to help you make the arrangements you and your family desire. There are many options including combinations of these and other methods such as holding the funeral with an open casket followed by cremation and inurnment after. It is your choice of how you want to honor your loved one with ceremony and their final resting place.