Honoring Those Who Served – Free Burial for US Military Veterans

Several years ago, my grandfather passed away. Even though it is a difficult time for our family, one thing made it easier for us. My grandfather served in the US Navy during WWII and as a veteran of the US military, he was eligible for a free burial with full military honors. My wife’s family…
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Several years ago, my grandfather passed away. Even though it is a difficult time for our family, one thing made it easier for us. My grandfather served in the US Navy during WWII and as a veteran of the US military, he was eligible for a free burial with full military honors. My wife’s family recently experienced a similar loss, when her uncle, A Korean War Era veteran, passed away. He too was eligible for military funeral honors.

Funerals are expensive, with the average funeral costing between $5,000-10,000. Military Funeral Honors send the veteran off in style and save the family a lot of money at a time when they are already stressed with the passing of their loved one.

Honoring Those Who Served

Free Military Burial with Honors for VeteransMilitary funeral honors are a benefit earned by all who served honorably in the US Armed Forces and are provided free of charge as a last “thank you” from a grateful nation. To be eligible for a free military burial, a veteran must have died while on active duty or must have received a discharge other than dishonorable. Veterans may also be eligible if they were a member or former member of the selected reserve.

The military will provide the Military Funeral Honors to the eligible beneficiary, which consists of the ceremonial folding and presentation of the American flag and the sounding of Taps.

The ceremony is normally provided by a military funeral honors detail of two or more uniformed military personnel, with at least one being a member of the veteran’s parent service.

In the event current uniformed personnel are not available for the service, many other veterans service organizations provide military funeral honors.

Let Your Family Know You Desire Military Funeral Honors

Public Law 106-65 requires that every eligible veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, but the government doesn’t have the resources to track down each veteran at the time of death. It is your duty to let your family know your desires so they can make your funeral arrangements after you pass.

You should also let your family know the location of your DD Form 214 (verification of military service) or other discharge documents, which they will need in order for you to receive Military Funeral Honors. You may also wish to request a full copy of your military service records as having this documentation on hand will expedite the process.

How to Arrange Military Funeral Honors

To arrange Military Funeral Honors, contact your local funeral home. Upon request of the next of kin or authorized representative, the funeral director requests the honors from the Military Service in which the veteran served. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Cemetery Administration cemetery staff can also assist with arranging Military Funeral Honors at VA national cemeteries. When military funeral honors at a national cemetery are desired, they are arranged prior to the committal service by the funeral home.

Headstones and Markers

Military Funeral Honors also includes a headstone and marker for the veteran and eligible dependents. Styles include flat bronze, flat granite, flat marble, and upright marble. Again, the funeral director can provide more information.

Free Burial at Sea for Veterans

Burial at sea was a Navy tradition of yore, but it is still available for veterans who wish for it. Burial at sea services are performed while the vessel is on official duty, so it is impossible for family members to be present. Following the burial at sea, the ship’s commanding officer will notify the surviving family members of the date, time, latitude, and longitude at which the burial took place.

Here is more information regarding military burials:

Which Documents Do You Need for a Military Burial?

In addition to qualifying military service, the veteran must be able to prove his or her military service. This is most commonly done with the DD Form 214, which is the record of service each military member receives upon discharge (prior to 1950, each service used its own discharge form).

Unfortunately, not everyone has a copy of his or her DD Form 214. It is possible to order a replacement form from the National Archives, but there is also a large segment of the veteran population whose military records were destroyed in the National Archives Fire of 1973. The fire occurred before the government had digital or microfilm backups of military records and many military records were permanently lost or destroyed. For those veterans, proving military service may be more difficult.

Thankfully, there are other ways to prove military service for last burial rights and other veterans benefits beyond the DD Form 214. In many cases, you can provide an Honorable Discharge certificate, retirement order, military documentation from your state if you served in the Guard, or a variety of other documents.

Documents Required for Military Funeral Honors

The following is a list of approved Veterans Military Discharge Documents which will satisfy the VA requirements for proof of honorable military service. You can use these forms to establish eligibility for a military burial, or for requesting a headstone or marker. You can find the full list at the VA.

  • Official Retirement Order
  • Official Retirement Register
  • Reserve Retirement Eligibility Benefits Letter
  • Verification of Service letter from the VA
  • Summary of Military Service Record From various states
  • DD 214 *** – Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty
  • DA 1569 – Transcript of Military Record
  • DD 2A – Armed Forces Identification Card (Active)
  • DD 2AF – Armed Forces Identification Card (Active)
  • DD 2CG – Armed Forces Identification Card (Active)
  • DD 2MC – Armed Forces Identification Card (Active)
  • DD 2N – Armed Forces Identification Card (Active)
  • DD 2NOAA – Armed Forces Identification Card (Active)
  • DD 2 (Retired) – US Uniformed Services Identification Card
  • DD 13 – Statement of Service
  • DD 217 – Discharge Certificate
  • DD 256A * – Honorable Discharge Certificate
  • DD 256AF * – Honorable Discharge Certificate
  • DD 256CG * – Honorable Discharge Certificate
  • DD 256MC * – Honorable Discharge Certificate
  • DD 256N * – Honorable Discharge Certificate
  • DD 257A * – General Discharge Certificate
  • DD 257AF * – General Discharge Certificate
  • DD 257CG * – General Discharge Certificate
  • DD 257MC * – General Discharge Certificate
  • DD 257N * – General Discharge Certificate
  • DD 303 – Certificate in Lieu of Lost or Destroyed Discharge
  • DD 303AF – Certificate in Lieu of Lost or Destroyed Discharge
  • DD 303CG – Certificate in Lieu of Lost or Destroyed Discharge
  • DD 303MC – Certificate in Lieu of Lost or Destroyed Discharge
  • DD 303N – Certificate in Lieu of Lost or Destroyed Discharge
  • DD 1300 – Report of Casualty
  • ADJ 545 – Discharge Certificate
  • Army DS ODF – Honorable Discharge from the United States Army
  • AGO 525 – Discharge Certificate
  • AGO 755 – Discharge Certificate
  • AGO 01252 – Discharge Certificate
  • AGO 01254 – Transcript of Military Record
  • AGO 01502 – Discharge Certificate
  • WD AGO 53 – Enlisted Record and Report of Separation Honorable Discharge
  • WD AGO 53-55 – Enlisted Record and Report of Separation Honorable Discharge
  • WD AGO 53-58 – Enlisted Record and Report of Separation General Discharge
  • WD AGO 53-90 – Certificate of Service
  • WD AGO 53-98 – Military Record and Report of Separation Certificate of Service
  • WD AGO 55 – Honorable Discharge from The Army of the United States
  • WD AGO 280 – Certificate of Service, AVS
  • WD AGO 525 – Honorable Discharge from the United States Army
  • WD AGO 755 – Honorable Discharge, Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps
  • WD AGO 0729 – Honorable Discharge from Army of the United States of America
  • WD AGO 01502 – Certificate in Lieu of Lost or Destroyed Discharge Certificate
  • WD AGO 01504 – Discharge Certificate
  • Bureau of Investigation No. 6 – Discharge Certificate
  • Bureau of Investigation No. 53 – Discharge Certificate
  • Bureau of Investigation No. 118 – Discharge Certificate
  • Bureau of Investigation No. 213 ** – Discharge from U. S. Naval Reserve Force
  • Form No. 6, U.S.N. – Discharge Certificate
  • Navy (No number) – War Service Certificate
  • NAVCG-553 – Notice of Separation from U.S. Coast Guard
  • NAVCG-2510 – Honorable Discharge, U.S. Coast Guard
  • NAVMC-455 – U.S. Marine Corps Certificate of Service, In Lieu of Lost or Destroyed Discharge Certificate
  • NAVMC 70-PD – Honorable Discharge, U.S. Marine Corps
  • NAVMC 78-PD – U.S. Marine Corps Report of Separation
  • NMC 258 A&I – Discharge Certificate
  • NMC 2571 A&I – Honorable Discharge, U.S. Marine Corps
  • NAVPERS-553 – Notice of Separation from U.S. Naval Service
  • NAVPERS-563 – Navy Discharge-Notice of Separation from U.S. Naval Service
  • NAVPERS-566 – Standard Statement of Service
  • NAVPERS-660 – Honorable Discharge from U.S. Navy
  • NAVPERS-661 – Certificate of Discharge, U.S. Naval Service
  • NAVPERS-663B – Discharge Certificate
  • NGB 22 **** – Report of Separation and Record of Service, Departments of the Army and the Air Force, National Guard Bureau
  • GSA 6851 – Service Information
  • GSA 6954 – Certificate of Military Service
  • NAR 529 – Certification of Military Service
  • NA 13038 – Certification of Military Service
  • NA 13041 – Statement of Service
  • VA Adjudication 545 – Summary of Record of Active Service
  • VA 3101 – Request for Army Information


  • * A DD Form 256 or DD Form 257 must indicate a period of active duty service dates to be a valid document for eligibility determination purposes.
  • ** Valid only if active duty service dates are indicated.
  • *** The DD Form 214 has been issued by all military services since January 1, 1950. Before January 1, 1950, several similar forms were used by the military services.
  • **** NGB Form 22 can be used to verify eligibility if it indicates prior active federal service other than for training or a minimum of 20 years total service for pay.

Make Your Intentions Known

Burying a family member is always a stressful time. If you are a veteran and plan on receiving a military burial, then please inform your spouse, children, or other survivors of your intentions and have your documentation in order in advance. The last thing your family needs to stress about during this time is finding your military records or requesting a copy of them from the National Archives – which could delay your burial service. Take the time to put together a folder with your military documentation and other records so your family can take them to the funeral home. From there, the funeral director should be able to take care of the rest of the details with the VA.

If you have any questions or concerns about your documentation or proof of honorable military service, then please take your concerns to a local funeral parlor in advance. This way you and your family can be prepared. Visit the VA Cemetery Services or osd.mil sites for more information.

Photo credit: Beverly & Pack

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  1. clarence says

    Im a viet nam war veteran. What will it cost me for a funeral? I live on ss so i dont have the money to pay for it. Im 70 years old so i need to figure this out.

  2. Elizabeth Roberti says

    Hello Ryan,
    My friend is 75 has served 6 years in the national guards was honorable discharged and has a DD214 paper work can he get a military burial.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Elizabeth, 

      I am not certain if National Guard service alone will qualify – it will depend on his service history, whether or not he was activated, and possibly other factors. In short, the best way to be certain if to have your friend contact the VA to verify. This is the most effective and efficient way to verify eligibility. 

      If he is eligible, then he should also set aside his important documents to ensure his family or friends have them ready when the time comes. This will save everyone a lot of time and stress during an already stressful time! I wish you and your friend the best.

      • Lewis says

        No the VA says national guardsmen are not eligible unless they were activated for other than training purposes

  3. Elizabeth Harris says

    Hello Ryan,
    My father recently passed away. He was in the army, served in Vietnam and was honorable discharged. I know that the VA doesn’t offer any benefits for adult children. I also know that they offer help with funeral costs IF it was a service related death and that can be anywhere between $300- $2000. Realistically the amount that the VA possibly gives for funeral costs is not enough, do you know if there is a charity or help center for adult children to go for financial help, counseling or even legal help?
    Thank you,

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Elizabeth,

      I am sorry for your loss. The VA does help with funeral costs for all qualified veterans, not just those who died from a service-related cause. So I encourage you to contact the VA to see if your father would qualify for burial benefits.

      As for additional services, I would ask the VA if they have any resources or can recommend a place to start. You can also contact your local county office of Veterans Affairs, or other local branches of Veterans Service Organizations, such as the DAV, AMVETS, American Legion, Vietnam Veterans of America, and similar organizations.

      I hope this points you in the right direction. Again, I am sorry for your loss, and I wish you and your family the best.

      • Elizabeth Harris says

        Hey Ryan,
        Thank you for your fast response, and condolences. I did reach out to the VA and they are helping out with the expenses, Im grateful for any help but the reality is it hardly covers the costs. My brother and I feel very fortunate to have amazing support that also helped us financially. The reason for my questions was because I know that there are many people that don’t have the support we have had. So I wanted to find a charity I can raise money for in hopes to help others in our position, and find heeling well doing it.
        Thanks again,

  4. Cicely Carter says

    I feel like this article is very deceptive. The headline reads free burials for veterans. You make it sound like there are no funeral home expenses due yet there are still many costs involved. Why would you make it sound that way when it is clearly not free.

  5. John J anderson says

    6 months active duty.1958 to discharge date of 1966.Do i qualify for a military funeral. I have a copy of my Honorable Discharge.

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