Honoring Those Who Served – Free Burial for US Military Veterans

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Free Military Burial with Honors for 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…

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

Notes:

  • * 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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About Ryan Guina

Ryan Guina is the founder and editor of The Military Wallet. He is a writer, small business owner, and entrepreneur. He served over 6 years on active duty in the USAF and is a current member of the IL Air National Guard.

Ryan started The Military Wallet in 2007 after separating from active duty military service and has been writing about financial, small business, and military benefits topics since then. He also writes about personal finance and investing at Cash Money Life.

Ryan uses Personal Capital to track and manage his finances. Personal Capital is a free software program that allows him to track his net worth, balance his investment portfolio, track his income and expenses, and much more. You can open a free Personal Capital account here.

Featured In: Ryan's writing has been featured in the following publications: Forbes, Military.com, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, Reserve & National Guard Magazine (print and online editions), Military Influencer Magazine, Cash Money Life, The Military Guide, USAA, Go Banking Rates, and many other publications.

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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,
    Elizabeth

    • 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,
        Elizabeth

  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.

  6. John J anderson says

    I had 8 years in the army reserves. 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.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello John, I recommend contacting the VA to verify your service. Some Reserve members may not qualify if their active duty time isn’t of the right type or duration (for example, basic training or tech school might not qualify). The VA can verify. I wish you the best, and thank you for your service!

  7. Leigh Boyd says

    Thank you for all this information. My question is, what DO I need to pay for when my veteran husband passes away? At regular funerals there is a “visitation” event and then a “funeral” event and then a “burial” event. If my husband has a military funeral I think I understand that there will be no formal visitation event, but at the funeral will loved ones have a time to view the open casket? Do I need to buy a casket? Will I need to hire someone to talk about his life? What about the burial? Does the military event happen at the gravesite? If I hire no one, will it be considered a full and honorable funeral? I hope you understand what I’m asking. When my husband passes people will come from 2 states. I need to know what I must pay for and what I might want to pay for, in addition to what the military kindly provides.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Leigh, Thank you for your question.

      I recommend contacting a funeral home in your local area to ask these questions. They generally help with the arrangements with the VA and can help you understand what the benefit does and does not provide, and what your options would be for additional services. You can try shopping around with several funeral homes so you have a plan in place when the time comes. This will be easier to do in advance instead of trying to rush through it while still going through the grieving process.

      I wish you and your family the best.

  8. Melba Smithwick says

    My dad was a WWII and Korean veteran in the US Navy. He passed away in 2010. He did have a military funeral, however, my mother wanted active sailors to serve as pallbearers. That did not happen. Would he have been eligible for that? My mom called the local naval base and says she was told they would.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Melba,

      I’m sorry for your loss.

      He may have been eligible, however, each base usually has a limited number of honor guard members. So it’s impossible to know their schedule at the time and whether or not they were able to perform those duties as well as everything else on their schedule at the time. Many local bases work with other local organizations to ensure military funeral needs are met. This can mean that other military service organizations may handle some military funeral duties.

      I wish you and your family the best.

  9. Lee Massengale says

    A friend of mines father served. He asked me about funeral arrangements and cost. Just trying to help. Please call or email or text me. Thank y’all !!

  10. Yvonne Delgado says

    Hello:

    My ex-husband served in the Army and from active duty went into the reserves. He passed away on June 17, 2019 and I was under the impression he was going to get a free burial and Taps and folding of the flag ceremony according to a Veteran’s package with all the information he had in a file. His funeral parlor advised me today that the Veteran’s denied him the burial because he doesn’t qualify for it due to the fact that he served only in the reserves. I would assume he was on active duty before he transferred into the reserves which is stipulated on his discharge papers. He served for almost 6 years and I find this disturbing and very unfair. Can you help me?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Yvonne, I am sorry for your loss. You are correct, he should be eligible for burial due to his active duty service. I recommend contacting the funeral home and letting them know he had active duty service as well as time in the Reserves. They will need a copy of his DD Form 214, or other proof of active duty service.

      You can obtain this from his records or through the National Archives. This article has more information on obtaining a copy of the veteran’s DD Form 214.

      Again, I am sorry for your loss. I wish you and your family peace during this time.

  11. Jack Petzko says

    I am a “Whole Body Donor” having made arrangements with the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at Rutgers University in NJ. Ergo, I do not need to PAY for cremation, as this is part of the Donor Agreement.

    My questions is this – Can a Military Funeral be provided to an urn full of ashes? (Mine)

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Jack, Yes, military funeral honors can be done under these conditions. You can set this up via the funeral home you choose. I recommend sharing your wishes with your family and having your documentation in one place so this can be handled with as little difficulty as possible.

      I wish you the best, and thank you for your service!

  12. erik mccarty says

    My Dad Past away Korean War Vet honorable discharge. It took me all day to get my heartbroken mom to the Va in Conway to be told in person no reimbursement for at all for cremation. How about a marker ? something only well there a death benefit if your yearly income is less then 9000 . Nothing for this man

  13. M VanSickle says

    My husband served 8 years in Air Force. I heard that my husband is not entitled for military funeral service; only retirees are eligible for military service. Does military pay anything toward cremation? My dad passed away 2 weeks ago and he had full military funeral service. Does military pay something for funeral service?

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello, Yes, he should be eligible for some form of military burial benefits, provided he has a discharge category higher than dishonorable. You can contact the VA for specific information, including which benefits are covered and how to apply when the time comes. I wish you and your family the best.

  14. Karen Mackay says

    My husband has Stage 4 cancer and we went to the funeral home to find out details, they said the Military Funeral does not handle caskets only the container the casket goes in and plot. I am the retired Veteran. Please tell me why the veterans don’t get a casket? What about the Viewing? The cost was almost as much as a funeral.

  15. Mark A Hinchee says

    Can you get a full military funeral with just serving from 7/20/1988 to 2/14/1990 and have a general ( under honorable) conditions discharge?

  16. CHARLES H VENABLE says

    By brother is Vietnam vet he has cancer sage 4 we re told the military don’t pay for the buried anymore .2018

    • Ryan Guina says

      Charles, I’m very sorry to hear about your brother. He deserves a military funeral service. The military still provides military honors for veterans who qualify (one of the few things that exclude this benefit is receiving a dishonorable discharge). So he should be eligible as long as his discharge rating is not dishonorable. Contact the VA for more information.

  17. Michael says

    your link to military funeral homes is unsafe and has an out of date certificate per my security software. PLz let me know when that issue is fixed.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Thank you for the note, Michael. I have updated the link to the new DoD link. Regarding the link being unsafe – the DoD uses their own Root Certificates, which aren’t always recognized by all browsers. You can download the DoD Root Certificates from the official DoD website and install them on your computer. After that, most DoD sites should no longer cause your browser or antivirus software to display a warning about the site being unsafe.

  18. Susan Rieff says

    My father passed away recently. We would like to have a military funeral when we bury his ashes in a few weeks. He served in the Army in 1944 for 2 years. We do not have any of the discharge papers. We only have photographs from his time in the service. What can be done to have a military funeral? Thank you.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Susan, Thank you for contacting me and I am sorry for your loss. You can try contacting the National Archives in St. louis to obtain a copy of his military service records. The National Archives should have copies of his service records and discharge paperwork. I hope this is helpful, and I wish you and your family the best!

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Doug, Thank you for contacting me. Yes, the exceptions are those who received a dishonorable discharge. There are a few other exceptions, including those who a capital crime. I recommend reading over the list on the official website to verify eligibility.

      You can coordinate this through a funeral home (they handle all the arrangements). I hope this is helpful. I wish you the best, and thank you for your service!

  19. Ryan Guina says

    Hello Sandra, Thank you for your question. The DD Form 256A is listed as one of the acceptable forms by the VA. So I think you qualify. However, it never hurts to verify with the VA or by contacting a Veterans Cemetery. They should be able to help you understand your options and may be able to help make it easier for your survivors when the time comes.

    I wish you the best, and thank you for your service!

  20. Sandra Coleman says

    I served in the Army Nurse Corps Reserve – August, 1988 to January, 1998. I have a DD256A. My commission entering the reserves was a 2nd LT and discharged with the rank of Captain. Can I be buried as a Veteran in a Veterans Cemetery?
    Thank you,
    Sandra Coleman

  21. Tony Antunes says

    Hello my name is Carlos and my brother who served in the Army during operation freedom Iraq has sadly passed away and I wanted to know is there any way we can give him a soldiers burial??? Please help us

  22. deloresyoung says

    I have power of attorney over a friend, now he’s in a nursing home under hospice care. It’s just a matter of time now. There’s NO INSURANCE. I need help – not sure what to do.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Delores, if your friend is a veteran, then he should be eligible for a free military burial service. You would need to get a copy of his proof of service (DD Form 214). Here are the instructions for getting a copy if you can’t find it among his papers. From there, you would coordinate with the funeral home director, who should take care of the planning and arrangements. I hope this points you in the right direction.

  23. Janet Dejesus says

    I am a neighbor of a United States Air Force vet who just passed away this weekend of November 28, 2016. No family members to notify. What is a shame is that now there is only four days left to try to help this silent soldier or he will be buried in Potter fields in NYC as just a nothing more than a number. It is a disgrace for this person who swore to serve his country to be buried this way. If there is any help for this soldier please let me know. Thank you!

    • Ryan Guina says

      Hello Janet, Thank you for contacting me, and thank you for taking charge in giving your neighbor the funeral honors he has earned.

      The military provides free military burials for military veterans. I would contact a funeral home and speak to the funeral director. They usually arrange the military honors. The funeral director will need the veteran’s DD Form 214 (discharge paperwork and proof of military service). It’s possible the veteran has this document among his important papers. The funeral home director may also be able to request this form from the National Archives if there is no family member present to make the request. I wish you the best in helping this veteran receive the honors he deserves.

  24. Susanna Ortiz says

    My father is a WWII Vet, and is nearing the end of his life at 90yrs old. This site has been helpful as we prepare to send him off.

    Thank you!

  25. Tabitha Dinger says

    Hi, is there any program out there to help pay for the rest of a vetrens funeral burial? My grandfather was in the Army and I still owe a good amount of the funeral bill yet. His wife died before he did in the same year….which I was not prepared for either services. Please can you email me information if your able to help. Thank you for your time.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Burials in a national VA cemetery are generally free, and the VA may pay for or reimburse a private burial expense in limited circumstances. You will need to contact the VA for more information.

    • Ryan Guina says

      Ron, The VA doesn’t directly cover the cost of cremation, but some veterans are eligible for a burial allowance which may deflect some of the associated cost. Many companies also offer the survivors a discount on cremation expenses. So this is one area you would wish to plan ahead so your survivors are prepared. Here is more info from the VA on burial allowances.

      Thanks for your service.

  26. Warren Stetson says

    Watch out for scams too. A very common scam done by non-government cemetaries and funeral homes is to offer Veterans Specials to surviving spouses where they offer a free plot for the Vet provided the spouse buys the spot next to it. Of course the prices are doubled on everything so the spouse ends up paying a fortune. Another thing I’ve seen is funeral homes charging families $70 or more for the taps bugler who ends up being a volunteer from the American Legion. People get ******* harder than you could ever imagine on funeral related goods because survivors are so messed up from the loss. A good rule of thumb is to use a consumer advocacy service such as the free Funeral Consumers Alliance located at http://www.funerals.org to help weed out disreputable businesses and ensure that you are not spending any more than you truly want to or spending money on services that you really don’t need.

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