Grand Rapids:

Veteran Burial Benefits and Funeral Etiquette

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” – President John F. Kennedy

The approach of Veteran’s Day on November 11 is an appropriate time to highlight veteran burial benefits and funeral etiquette that veterans are eligible to receive.  

History of Veterans Day

Veterans Day originated with Armistice Day of World War I.  In 1918, on the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allies and Germany. The following year, many nations began to commemorate November 11 as Armistice Day, and it became a legal holiday in the United States in 1938.  In 1954, following World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day began to be called Veteran’s Day.  As a national holiday it is a celebration dedicated to honoring all American veterans, living or dead, but placing special appreciation on living veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve honorably during war or peacetime, sacrificing for the common good.

Veteran Burial Benefits

  • Veterans AND their spouses may be buried at a national cemetery. The spouse receives the same burial items as the veteran.
  • Veterans may be buried in any national cemetery in the United States.  In the state of Michigan, we are privileged to have two national cemeteries: Fort Custer National Cemetery near Battle Creek, and Great Lakes National Cemetery near Holly.
  • Veteran burial benefits include the burial plot, vault, opening and closing of the grave, and a marker or headstone.  However, a casket, as well as anything prior to the burial, are not covered benefits, which include a funeral service, cremation, obituary, death certificate, and so forth.
  • If the veteran chooses to be buried in a non-national cemetery, the Veterans Administration will provide a marker or headstone for the veteran, but not for the veteran’s spouse.
  • Some veterans may be entitled to partial financial assistance, but eligibility is determined by the number of years of active duty and financial assets, so check with the Veterans Administration to confirm this.
  • Note that a copy of the veteran’s DD Form 214 or the Discharge Papers and Separation Documents form, in recent years called the Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, is required to receive all veteran burial benefits. If the veteran’s DD Form 214 cannot be located, it is best to apply for replacement paperwork with the Veterans Administration as soon as possible and not wait until death occurs, as this could delay or disqualify the veteran from benefits.  Please feel free to ask us how to obtain benefits or assist with replacement paperwork if needed.

Military Funeral Etiquette

Veteran Funeral Services

In addition to veteran burial benefits, military funeral honors are available to the veteran. 

All veterans qualify to be given a military funeral, whether they were retired, on active duty, or a member of the Reserve or National Guard.  Their rank attained is not a consideration, nor is whether they were killed in combat.  The exception is for any veteran who was dishonorably discharged from the armed forces or charged with a capital crime.  

A military funeral can take place at any national or private cemetery and is a solemn, memorable way to honor and commemorate the life of a man or woman who has served their country with honor.  It is a formal and respectful event and proper military etiquette is expected of all attending mourners.

Members of the Armed Forces who attend a military funeral are expected to wear their service dress uniform and be prepared to salute when the hearse carrying the deceased veteran passes in front of them, any time the flag-draped casket is moved, during the formal 21-gun salute, during the playing of “Taps,” and when the casket is lowered into the grave.

If the funeral involves a cremation, when the urn containing the ashes is being moved, it should be followed by someone carrying a folded flag. Current military members are expected to salute as the flag passes, while former military members not in uniform may salute if they choose. Civilians should not salute, but as a sign of respect should remove any headwear and place it over their heart. If not wearing headwear, civilians should place their right hand over their heart.

It is encouraged that all who are in attendance dress in respectful attire. During the funeral ceremony, it is traditional to stand unless seating arrangements have been provided in advance and the chaplain permits sitting while the committal service is read.  Anyone seated at the gravesite is to remain seated until the end of the service. Immediate family are to be seated at the front.

During the service, a flag-folding honor will take place in which an American flag is folded in a proper triangular-shaped fashion. The veteran’s closest next of kin receive the folded American flag that is presented to them on behalf of the United States as a symbol of the honor earned while serving America.  If the veteran chooses not to have full military honors, the family is still eligible to receive a folded flag.

Those preparing for a military funeral should provide a copy of the deceased veteran’s DD Form 214 to the funeral director so they can accelerate the process of arranging for the veteran to receive military funeral honors and ensure a flag is obtained for the casket.  

The Final Honor

A military funeral is the final honor and sign of respect given to a veteran by their family, friends, fellow service members, and the country they served. Due to the serious, solemn nature of the occasion, it is important to follow proper etiquette to both avoid disrespect to the memory of the deceased, and to honor the deceased veteran’s patriotism, loyalty, and sacrifice. At Gerst Funeral Homes, we are pleased to provide funeral planning and services that honor and respect our nation’s veterans.