Honoring Those Who Served: The U.S. Military Funeral Honors Program

A Practical Guide for Funeral Directors in New York State

"Honoring Those Who Served" is the name of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) program that provides dignified military funeral honors to all honorably discharged Veterans who have served our nation.

Upon the family's request, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2000 (Public Law 106-65) requires that every eligible Veteran receive a military funeral honors ceremony, to include folding and presenting the United States flag and the playing of Taps, provided by two or more uniformed military persons, with at least one being a member of the Veteran's parent service of the armed forces. The ceremony is provided at no cost to the family.

The program is designed to have funeral directors request military funeral honors on behalf of a veteran's family. All branches of the armed forces provide these honors. Veterans' service organizations (VSOs) may assist in providing military funeral honors, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) National Cemetery Administration staff can also assist with arranging military funeral honors at VA national cemeteries. (Note: All military funeral honors need to be arranged prior to the committal service.)  Besides the Federal and State military personnel, there are civilians in several agencies (the Veterans Administration, the Division of Military and Naval Affairs, etc.) who are dedicated to assisting funeral directors to ensure our veterans receive the funeral honors to which they are entitled.

KNOWING HOW TO HELP FAMILIES WHO REQUEST MILITARY FUNERAL HONORS

  • The funeral director will act on behalf of a family to coordinate and schedule the appropriate military honors ceremony.
  • Military funeral honors are provided at no cost to the family.
  • The military services request a minimum of 48-hours notice, if possible, to perform the funeral honors service. However, funeral directors are encouraged to make a request regardless of time-frame.
  • All faxed requests for military funeral honors should be followed-up with a phone call to verify receipt of the request.
  • Funeral directors are urged to inform the honor guard personnel if you have also coordinated the involvement and participation of a Veterans' Service Organization (VSO).
  • Careful communication and proper coordination between funeral directors and the honor guard are key to providing a respectful ceremony for our nation's veterans.

Q:   WHAT DOES A MILITARY FUNERAL HONORS CEREMONY ENTAIL?

A:     Military funeral honors are provided upon the family's request.  A funeral honors ceremony will, at a minimum, include the ceremonial folding and presentation of the American flag to the veteran's family and the playing of Taps. Certain honors ceremonies may involve a firing party along with casket bearers and a color guard team. There are three types of honors details:

  1. VETERAN HONORS are provided for someone who served, but did not retire from military service; ceremony consists of a 2-3 person team including the ceremonial folding and presentation of the flag and the sounding of Taps.
  2. RETIREE HONORS are provided for someone who served 20 or more years, or medically retired; ceremony consists of a 7-10 person team including a chaplain (when requested, and if available), pall-bearers, firing party, the ceremonial folding and presentation of the flag and playing of Taps.
  3. FULL HONORS are provided for veterans on active duty, Medal of Honor recipients, and General Officers. This type of ceremony consists of a team of 21 including a chaplain, pall-bearers, color guard, firing party, the ceremonial folding and presentation of the flag and playing of Taps.

Q: HOW DOES A MILITARY FUNERAL WORK? WHAT CAN I EXPECT?

A:  Once a request for military funeral honors has been accepted and scheduled, the Funeral Honors Coordinator will contact the funeral home to verify logistical information regarding the service (such as the date, time, and location) to ensure a smooth ceremony. Funeral directors are asked to discuss a family's special requests before the honor guard arrives at the ceremony.

The funeral honors detail will arrive approximately one hour prior to the ceremony and will inspect the area to ensure the honors are performed with utmost respect and dignity. The honor guard will coordinate with the funeral director and clergy to ensure the service is conducted with solemnity.

When the honors ceremony is performed, it is proper for funeral directors to stand and place your hand over your heart as Taps is sounded. At the conclusion of Taps, the flag is folded and presented to the next of kin on "behalf of a grateful nation."

Q: WHO IS ELIGIBLE TO RECEIVE MILITARY HONORS?

A:  Military members in the following categories are eligible for military funeral honors: military personnel on active duty; former members who served on active duty and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable (as described below); members of the Selected Reserve and National Guard who served at least one term of enlistment or period of initial obligated service and were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable; and former members of the Selected Reserve and National Guard who were discharged due to a service-related disability.

Q: WHO IS INELIGIBLE FOR MILITARY FUNERAL HONORS?

A:  Veterans are ineligible if they have been convicted of federal or state capital offenses and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole or receive the death penalty. They are also ineligible if they were discharged from the military under dishonorable conditions, which includes dishonorable discharge, bad conduct discharge, dismissal from the service by court-martial, other than honorable conditions discharge, and for officers, resignation for the good of the service in lieu of courts-martial, which results in a discharge characterization of other than honorable conditions.

Q: WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR MAKING THE ARRANGEMENTS FOR HONORS TO BE PERFORMED?

A:  Honors are not performed automatically; they must be requested. Families of eligible veterans must request funeral honors through their funeral director. The funeral director then contacts the appropriate military service to request and coordinate the funeral honors detail.

Q: WHO SHOULD I GET TO PERFORM THE HONORS?

A:  This will depend on the family's wishes and/or your geographic proximity to the nearest military unit/installation. Ideally, the parent service should be contacted to perform the honors (Army Honor Guard for Army veterans, Air Force Honor Guard for Air Force veterans, etc). Other branches may perform honors if the parent branch of the veteran is not available.

Additionally, funeral honors details may be augmented with volunteers who are military veterans and who are members of veterans' service organizations, such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or other appropriate organizations. The Authorized Provider Partnership Program (AP3) was established to provide training for these volunteers to ensure a standardized quality of the honors performed. These volunteers may complement a military funeral honors detail by providing additional elements of honors such as a firing party, pallbearers, buglers, or color guard.  However, the United States Code requires that funeral honors for veterans be performed by at least two members of the Armed Forces, at least one of which is a member of the armed force of which the veteran was a member. Therefore, every attempt should be made to contact the military for honors.

NOTE: The opportunity exists for a Post to conduct the honors while having a member of the parent service present the flag to the family. Army Air Force/Corps veterans may have honors performed by either the Army or Air Force; Marine Corps veterans may have honors performed by the Navy.

Q: HOW DO I CONTACT AN HONOR GUARD IN MY AREA?

A:  Some areas of New York State have established, organized honor guard teams, while more rural locations may not have the benefit of having a local military presence. Regardless of the geographical location, a collaborative partnership between funeral directors and the military ensures that all veterans receive the military honors they deserve and to which they are entitled.

SUGGESTED CONTACTS . . .

The following is a list of general phone numbers that may get you started if you do not have current honor guard contacts. The honor guard staff at these numbers will either assist you or direct you to the appropriate contact person in your part of the state.

AIR FORCE VETERAN

  • CAPITAL REGION:  518.344.2586 / 781.377.4850
  • NORTH COUNTRY:  802.660.5209 / 781.377.4850
  • SYRACUSE:   315.233.2515 / 609.754.4117
  • BUFFALO/NIAGARA:  716.238.3182 / 609.754.4117
  • DOWNSTATE:   845.541.8374 / 609.754.4117
  • LONG ISLAND:   631.723.7471 / 609.754.4117

ARMY VETERAN & ARMY NATIONAL GUARD VETERAN

  • BATH:    607.661.0702
  • BINGHAMTON:   607.661.5056
  • BUFFALO:   716.888.5693
  • CAPITAL REGION:  518.272.3557
  • LONG ISLAND:   646.285.5752
  • NEWBURGH:   845.565.1344
  • NYC:    718.329.3926
  • ROCHESTER:  585.783.5356
  • SYRACUSE:   315.877.3312

MARINE CORPS VETERAN

  • ALL OF NYS:   866.826.3628

NAVY VETERAN

  • ALL OF NYS:   860.694.3475

COAST GUARD VETERAN

  • ALL OF NYS:   718.354.4042

 

Q:  ARE MEMBERS OF PHS OR NOAA ELIGIBLE FOR FUNERAL HONORS?

A:   Yes, a recent change to DoD policy expands eligibility for members of the Commissioned Officer Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to receive funeral honors as members of the Uniformed Services.  If you receive a request for funeral honors, contact the point of contact at PHS or NOAA to arrange for the funeral honors detail.

  • PHS:  800.638.8744
  • NOAA:  301.713.3444 x 115

NOTE: The family of an eligible member of PHS and NOAA can expect a funeral honors ceremony involving the folding and presentation of a flag and the playing of Taps, but not the firing of three volleys, as they were members of the Uniformed Services, not members of the Armed Forces.

Q:  HOW MUCH NOTIFICATION IS NEEDED TO SCHEDULE AN HONOR GUARD CEREMONY?

A:   A 48-hour notice is normally enough time to meet a request for an honors ceremony. While 48-hours is ideal, many honor guard teams can accommodate last-minute requests, depending on the honors ceremony requested. Funeral directors are encouraged to contact the honor guard to request honors, regardless of the timeframe.  However, because it is sometimes necessary to have a team brought in from another location, no less than 48-hours is strongly recommended whenever possible. Funeral directors who have established a direct link with a local honor guard team will attest that the scheduling process is normally very efficient.

Q: WHAT MUST BE PROVIDED IN ORDER TO RECEIVE MILITARY FUNERAL HONORS?

A:  To schedule military funeral honors, a funeral director will need to provide military service verification and a Funeral Honors Request Form. Proof of military service is usually in the form of documents issued at the end of military service, most often a DD Form 214 (Active Duty or Reservists) and NGB Form 22 (National Guardsmen). A list of acceptable documents used to establish honorable active military service can be found HERE.

While verification of service is always required, it is not always readily available. As such, please provide any and all service paperwork (DD 214, Discharge papers, retirement, etc.) that the family makes available.  If the family does not have a DD 214 and you only need to verify the discharge status of the veteran, call the VA Regional office in your area (800.827.1000). If the deceased veteran does not appear in their system, ask the VA to contact the Records Management Center in St. Louis to get the verification. (Again, this would just be a verification and would not necessarily involve receiving the actual DD 214 form.) To request a veteran's DD 214, visit http://www.archives.gov/veterans/evetrecs/index.html.

The Funeral Request Form may be obtained from the specific honor guard you will be working with. This form will indicate the date, time and location of the ceremony where the honors will be provided. It will also identify the next-of-kin (NOK) and funeral home contact information.

Q:  WHAT HAPPENS IF A FAMILY CANNOT SUPPLY DOCUMENTATION OR PROOF OF MILITARY SERVICE?

A:  Many times the honors can be provided and the documentation verifying proof of military service can be obtained after the ceremony.  However, it is important to note that Federal and State guidelines do require that documentation be provided before scheduling a military funeral honors ceremony. If verification cannot be provided before the close of business the day before the scheduled funeral ceremony, the honor guard may decide that Honors cannot be performed at that time. In this case, the honor guard will work with the family and will be honored to offer the services at a later date when the documentation is located/obtained.

Q: WHAT ARE THE PROCEDURES FOR NATIONAL CEMETERIES AND HONOR GUARDS?

A:  This will depend on the procedures for that particular National Cemetery. Military honor guards often work with the Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) and National Cemetery staff to perform honors at those locations. Careful communication and proper coordination are key to providing a respectful ceremony.

Q: WHERE CAN HONORS BE PERFORMED?

A:  Military honors can be provided almost anywhere the family wishes! They are most often held at cemeteries, funeral homes and/or places of worship. However, they have been performed at residences, parks, and public buildings.

Q: DO I NEED TO DO ANYTHING WITH THE HONOR GUARD WHEN WE ARRIVE AT THE CEMETERY/SITE OF THE HONORS?

A:  Most honor guard teams will quickly touch base with the funeral director to confirm the logistics of the ceremony, including who is receiving the flag and the specific order of events.

Q: WHAT IF THE FAMILY REQUESTS A LIVE BUGLER?

A:  It is the military's goal is to have a live bugler at funerals whenever possible. However, the number of uniformed buglers is very limited. Nevertheless, funeral directors are encouraged to contact Bugles Across America (BAA); they are a volunteer organization whose sole purpose is to provide live playing of Taps at veterans' honor guard ceremonies, free of charge. Contact information may be found at http://www.buglesacrossamerica.org/. A request submitted online is sent to every bugler within 90 miles of where the honors will be performed, and if available, buglers who are registered with the site will accept the request and contact you for details.

It is important to note that the DoD has approved the use of "ceremonial bugles"; they look like real bugles and include a device in the bell of the bugle that plays a recorded version of Taps.

Q: I'VE FOUND IT TO BE CONFUSING WHEN DEALING WITH THE DIFFERENT MILITARY BRANCHES. WHY?

A:  Each branch is unique in small ways that set them apart based on their heritage, history and protocol. Military honors follow a similar, but not exact format - similar to funeral ceremonies. Small variances in procedure are to be expected as you interact with the different branches, just as the honor guard will experience differences when working with different funeral directors from across the state. Careful communication and cooperation is the key to smooth operations.

Q: WHAT CAN I DO TO MAKE THE PROCESS OF REQUESTING MILITARY HONORS EASIER?

A:  Speak out! If you or other funeral directors in your area recognize that the lack of available military honor guard teams in your area is hindering your ability to serve your families, make it known! Honor guard programs are established because there is a need for them. By law, the military must perform honors where they are needed. If the number of military honor ceremonies rise in your area, the need to fund full-time personnel in your area will be posed. You have a powerful voice in this area; please be sure that your elected officials (local, county or state) hear it!

Q: HOW MUCH DOES A MILITARY FUNERAL HONORS CEREMONY COST?

A:   Military funeral honors are provided at no cost to the family.

Q: HOW DO I OBTAIN A BURIAL FLAG FOR THE FAMILY?

A:  The Veterans Administration establishes eligibility, and funeral directors can learn more about obtaining a flag by visiting http://www.cem.va.gov/bbene/bflags.asp. Generally, burial flags are available at any VA regional office or U.S. Post Office.

Q: HOW IS THE FLAG PRESENTED?

A: After Taps has sounded, the flag is carefully folded into the symbolic tri-cornered shape, symbolizing the tri-cornered hat worn by colonial soldiers during the war for Independence. When folded, no red or white stripe is shown, leaving only the blue field with stars. The folded flag is then presented as a keepsake to the next of kin or an appropriate family member.

Q: WHAT IS A PRESIDENTIAL MEMORIAL CERTIFICATE AND HOW DOES THE FAMILY OBTAIN THIS?

A:  A Presidential Memorial Certificate (PMC) is an engraved paper certificate, signed by the current President, to honor the memory of honorably discharged deceased Veterans and to express the country's grateful recognition of the Veteran's service in the United States Armed Forces.  Eligible recipients include the next of kin and loved ones of honorably discharged deceased Veterans. Eligible recipients, or someone acting on their behalf, may apply for a PMC in person at any VA regional office or by U.S. mail or toll-free fax. (Note: The family may obtain more than one certificate.)  Additional information for requesting a Presidential Memorial Certificate is available at www.cem.va.gov/pmc.asp.

Q: WHO DO I CONTACT WITH COMMENTS OR CONCERNS ABOUT THE MILITARY FUNERAL HONORS PROGRAM?

A:  You may write to:

Military Funeral Honors
Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations (AFMAO)
116 Purple Heart Drive
Dover AFB, DE 19902

A very special thank you to: Tech Sgt. Allen P. Moon of the 109th Airlift Wing – Stratton ANGB in Scotia, NY; Donald Roy, Director and Ruth Ann Galuski, State Coordinator both from the NYS Military Forces Honor Guard for their contributions to this publication. Produced by the New York State Tribute Foundation, Inc., an affiliate of the New York State Funeral Directors Association, Inc.  COPYRIGHT © 2010

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