A Guide to Military Funerals

Information on military funeral honors, how to organize a military funeral and eligibility for national cemeteries

Last updated: 8 March 2017

Eligible veterans and military members are entitled, by law, to military funeral honors upon their death. If your loved one was a veteran or in active service when they died, you can organize a military funeral through your funeral home. This will include military honors.

What is a military funeral?

A funeral with military honors, also known as a military funeral, usually involves an honor guard detail present at the burial or cremation of a veteran or service member. The guard detail will consist of no fewer than two members of the Armed Forces, one of which will represent the service of the person who has died.

In addition to any other religious or non-religious funeral service, this guard detail will perform a ceremony involving the folding and presenting of the American flag to the next of kin, and the playing of Taps. When possible, Taps will be played by a bugler, though it is now more commonly played via electronic recording.

Depending on the rank and status of the person who has died, the ceremony may also involve an escort platoon, the firing of a gun salute, military band, or aerial flyovers. Your funeral home will be able to liaise with the military on these details.

Who can have a military funeral?

To be eligible for military honors, the person who has died must have been one of the following:

  • A military member on active duty
  • A military member in the Selected Reserve
  • Former military members who departed under circumstances other than dishonorable
  • Former military members who completed one term of enlistment or obligated service in the Selected Reserve and departed under circumstances other than dishonorable

To verify eligibility, you may have to provide some paperwork, such as the Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty. You may also need to request a copy from the National Archives. Your funeral director may be able to help you with this.

National cemeteries

Your loved one may also be eligible for a burial plot in one of the United States’ many national cemeteries. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs oversees national cemeteries and has a list of eligibility criteria.

If your loved one is eligible for a plot in a national cemetery, you will still have to pay for other aspects of the funeral, but the burial plot and marker stone will be provided by the state.

Your loved one may be eligible for a burial in a national cemetery if they were:

  • A veteran or member of the Armed Forces
  • A member of Reserve Components and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps
  • A spouse or dependent of a veteran or member of the Armed Forces
  • Parents of a veteran or member of the Armed Forces

If you think that your loved one is eligible for a national cemetery burial, talk to the funeral director at your chosen funeral home. They should be able to advise you on how to proceed, as well as helping you with all military funeral arrangements. You can also contact the Department of Veterans Affairs for more information.