Planning funerals for military veterans and retirees can be overwhelming for their families, and the Defense Department's director of casualty and mortuary affairs wants family members to familiarize themselves in advance, when possible, to know what to expect with military funeral honors.
Deborah S. Skillman said families should learn about military funeral honors eligibility ahead of time to know what choices are available. She also recommended that family members should ensure they have access to the veteran's discharge papers, also called a DD Form 214, to prove eligibility.
It's also critical for family members who want military funeral honors to tell the funeral director, who can make the request for them, Skillman said. The honors are not automatic, and must be requested through the veteran's branch of service, she noted.
"Families (also) need to know DOD is going to be there when the honors are requested," Skillman added.
DOD policy is mandated by law to provide a minimum of a two-person uniformed detail to present the core elements of the funeral honors ceremony, and one service member must represent the veteran's branch of service, she said. The core elements include playing taps, folding the American flag and presenting the flag to the family.
Burials with military funeral honors can be conducted at national, veterans' or private cemeteries, she said.
"While DOD is required to provide a (two-servicemember) detail, policy encourages each service secretary to provide additional elements, such as the firing team and pallbearers, if resources permit. However, full honors are always provided for active-duty deaths," Skillman said.
"Military honors may consist of three-rifle volleys by a firing team," she said, and added that veteran service organizations often participate in burials with military honors to serve as pallbearers and to provide a firing team.
The Veterans Affairs Department also offers other benefits, such as headstones, Skillman said.
"We want to honor every eligible service member and make sure (the services) are there to render honors," Skillman said.