Comparing Death Benefits for Military Branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and More

Table of Contents

  1. What Military Branches Provide Funeral and Memorial Benefits
  2. Eligibility and Options for Veterans Funeral Honor Service
  3. VA Benefits for Veterans Funerals or Memorials

Veterans and their families can often take advantage of special benefits related to funeral and memorial services. Whether you're planning ahead for your own end-of-life celebration or you are a family with an immediate need who has recently lost a loved one, it's helpful to know what options you have to honor both the person and his or her previous military service. Here's a comprehensive look at the branches of the military and what service members and veterans are eligible for with regard to burial, cremation, funeral, and memorial benefits.

What Military Branches Provide with Funeral and Memorial Benefits?

The branches of the military are all part of the U.S. Department of Defense, and they all ultimately report to the President of the United States, who acts as Commander in Chief. There are multiple divisions, though, each with a specific type of responsibility when it comes to national defense.

Air Force and Air Force Reserve

The Air Force and its reserves maintain the nation's air and space defense programs. While the various service members within these branches perform many jobs, the overall mission is to support national defense via the use of satellites, planes, helicopters, and drones.

Air National Guard

The Air National Guard is a subset of the Air Force. Service members work in a reserve capacity and support the overall mission of the Air Force branch.

Marine Corps and Marine Corps Reserve

Marines can cover combat on both land or sea and they are generally the "first responders" of the military branches. Their policies and training let the Marines deploy rapidly.

Coast Guard and Coast Guard Reserve

The Coast Guard is not generally considered a combat branch, and it doesn't typically act in international waters. Instead, its job is to patrol domestic waters, clear waterways, enact rescues, assist with law enforcement, and prevent water-based drug activities.

Navy and Navy Reserve

The Navy's main job is to secure and protect the country on the oceans. It may also work in conjunction with other nations across the globe to keep peace on open waters, and it operates on land, by sea, and in the air to do so.

Army and Army Reserve

The Army and its reserves are the primary manner by which the United States secures power on land. Typically, if the Army is called into an area, it will involve itself in securing that area and remain in place to ensure order and stabilization before handing governance back over to another party.

Army National Guard

The Army National Guard operates in each state and is required by the Constitution. Typically, it acts in a reserve style, with individuals dedicating part of their time to service. In times of emergency, the guard can be called up by the state governor or President to serve.

Eligibility and Options for Veterans Funeral Honor Service

Military funeral honors must be provided for eligible veterans when the vet or next of kin request it, and the primary honors services must be provided without charge according to federal law. The services are provided by the United States Armed Services and not a funeral home. The law requires that the services be conducted by a military honor guard, which consists of at least two service members and at least one member from the deceased veteran's own branch.

To ensure an honor guard is provided for a veteran's funeral or memorial service, family members should contact the benefits office of the branch in question as soon as possible. Some funeral homes and memorial service providers will also work with the family to help set up contacts and arrange services with the military.

Who Is Eligible for a Military Funeral Honors Service

To be eligible for a military honor guard, the person who passed away must have been:

  • An active-duty member of the military or the Selected Reserve,
  • A veteran previously discharged under any condition other than dishonorable or
  • Have been a former military member and completed a term in the Selected Reserve and been discharged other than dishonorable from the Reserve

What Services Are Provided for a Veteran Funeral Honors Service?

The funeral honors services at minimum contain three elements:

  1. Flag Folding. The American flag is folded in a short ceremony performed by the military service members that make up the honor guard.
  2. Flag Presentation. The members of the honor guard present the American flag to the veteran's next of kin, and the family may keep the flag as a memento of the veteran's service and life.
  3. Playing of Taps. Taps is played during the burial or memorial service. The Armed Forces tries to ensure that a bugle player is present to play Taps live, but there are not enough bugle players in all locations to do so. Because of this, Taps may be played via a recording over speakers.

Additional Military Honor Services Provided Upon Request

Upon request, some families or veterans may be able to receive additional honor services. Not all of these are available to every service member or vet, and some branches don't offer all options.

Three-Volley Salute or Rifle Detail

This is a ceremonial action conducted by the honor guard. The guard fires into the air three times but uses blank cartridges for safety. To receive a rifle volley, the family must ask for one and the branch of the military in question must allow it. Some branches, including the Air Force, no longer provide the three-volley salute because of a lack of resources and staff.

Note that the three-volley salute is different from what is referred to as the 21-gun salute. The 21-gun salute is typically handled with artillery machines and not an honor guard or rifle detail.

The three-volley salute originates from a tradition during battle. For centuries, battle would be called to a halt so each side could remove those who had been killed in combat. In battles where both sides followed codes of honor, each side would fire a three-round volley that would let the other side know that the dead had been cleared and the cease fire was over.

Military Flyover

The Marine Corps, Air Force, and Navy are all equipped to provide flyovers, as are some National Guards. Not all service members are eligible to receive a flyover; they tend to be reserved for those who died in the line of duty, are officers, or have been awarded certain medals. The Air Force requirements for flyover eligibility are detailed here. You can find more information about eligibility for flyovers, and the form to make a request, here.


The family of the veteran can request that members of his or her military honor guard also serve as pallbearers. The honor guard might serve alongside family and friends in this capacity; if the honor guard is big enough, they may fully staff the pallbearer stations. Having the honor guard in uniform acting as pallbearers can be a beautiful symbolic gesture to honor someone's military connections.


The caisson service involves the coffin being carried on a horse-drawn caisson to the burial site, typically surrounded by the honor guard. The service is performed at Arlington National Cemetery. Any veteran who is eligible for full military honors at the cemetery may request the caisson (or his or her next of kin may do so), and it will be provided if available. The caisson service is provided by a specialty platoon of service men and women, and they deliver the service for up to eight funerals daily at the cemetery.

Caisson services might be available in other national cemeteries. Families who are interested should ask their funeral provider and local national cemetery about these options.

VA Benefits for Veteran Funerals or Memorials

Veterans who were discharged other than dishonorably and service members who are still active duty at the time they pass away are also able to receive funeral and memorial related benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

One of those benefits is burial compensation. This is handled in the form of reimbursement, which means families continue with burial services as planned and file for reimbursement. The amount of the burial benefit depends on how, when, and where the person passed away.

  • If someone passes away as a result of activity directly connected to military service, the VA will reimburse $2,000.
  • If someone passes away and it's not related to military service, the VA will reimburse $300.
  • If someone passes away and it's not related to military service, but they were hospitalized by the VA at the time, they VA will reimburse $749.

To receive the reimbursement, the family or next of kin must have paid for the services (if services were donated, for example, no reimbursement is allowed). The VA also doesn't reimburse when the service member was an active member of Congress who was holding office upon death, was a prisoner of the Federal system, or died during active military service. Individuals who pass away during active service or while serving in Congress are eligible for other types of burial and funeral benefits.

For more information on how to apply for reimbursement from the VA for funeral or burial expenses, visit the VA's claims page.

Government Headstone, Markers, and Monuments for Veterans

The VA will provide a headstone or marker for veteran grave sites free of charge, and this benefit is not part of the reimbursement for burial expenses. The type of marker depends in part on the family and the cemetery where the veteran is being buried, but loved ones can often choose from granite, marble, or bronze. Even if the veteran or family has already purchased a private marker or headstone, the VA will provide a medallion to place on the site to honor the deceased's military service.

Eligibility for a headstone requires that the veteran was discharged other than dishonorably or passed away during active duty. If the vet served after September 7, 1980, he or she must have served for at least 24 consecutive months. Eligibility for a medallion requires the same.

Families can order a headstone or marker on the VA website.

Veteran Burial in a National Cemetery

There are 135 national cemeteries located throughout the country. Vets and families can check the VA map for the location of all these facilities.

  • If a veteran qualifies for burial benefits under the VA, they or their family can take advantage of burial services in a national cemetery. If room accommodates, eligible veterans can receive the following burial services free of cost in a national cemetery:Opening and closing of the grave site
  • Perpetual care of the site
  • Government headstone or marker
  • Burial flag
  • Presidential memorial certificate

These benefits are available for both cremated remains and caskets.

Presidential Memorial Certificate

This is a paper certificate that is engraved and signed by the President of the United States. It's available to any family who is burying a vet in a national cemetery. It is also available if the vet was eligible for burial in the national cemetery but the family made other plans. To receive the certificate the family must complete the Presidential Memorial Certificate Request Form.

Veteran Burial at Sea

Free burial at sea is offered by the United States Navy for individuals who were members of the Armed Services. Although the Navy offers burial at sea, this option is not limited to just veterans of the Navy. To qualify for free burial at sea the deceased must meet one of the following criteria:

  • The deceased must have been in active duty or retired/honorably discharged.
  • The deceased was a member of the U.S. civilian marine personnel working for the Military Sealift Command.
  • The deceased was a dependent family member of qualifying service members or former service members.

To initiate the process for burial at sea, the next of kin must complete a Burial-at-Sea Request/Authorization Form.

As you can see, the list of military funeral and memorial benefits is quite extensive. Veterans and families can take advantage of a number of free services and reimbursements. For more information about honoring your loved one's former service to his or her country, talk to your funeral and cremation memorial provider.

Download The Essential Veteran Death Benefits and Memorialization Guide

The Neptune Society is the nation's oldest and largest provider of affordable cremation services. Whether you have an immediate need or want to plan cremation services in advance, we are always available to assist you and your family.

Call 1-800-NEPTUNE (800-637-8863) today or contact us online to learn more.

Veteran Death Benefits and Memorialization for Service Members and Their Families - guide cover

Download The Essential Veteran Death Benefits and Memorialization Guide

With our guide, learn how to:

  • Honor your veteran respectfully
  • Understand benefits eligibility
  • Review memorialization options