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Veterans burial flags—the next step

Yesterday (April 23), I linked to the portion of the U.S. Code that addresses Veterans Benefits regarding a burial flag. The logical next step is explaining how a family would obtain a burial flag.

If a veteran dies in a VA (Veterans Administration) hospital, the proper flag is automatically sent with the remains to the mortuary or funeral home in charge of the funeral services. When burial is to be in a national, State or military post cemetery, a burial flag will be provided.

If the veteran’s remains come to the funeral home by other means, and the family wishes to have a burial flag, then someone in the family completes a document (VA Form 21-2008) that verifies the deceased was a veteran. It will be necessary to provide a copy of the veteran’s discharge documents, that show the service dates, such as DD Form 214, or verification of service from the veteran’s service department or the VA.

If the person requesting a flag is unable to provide documentary proof, a flag may be issued when a statement of is made by a person of established character and reputation that he or she personally knows the deceased to have a been a veteran who meets the eligibility criteria.

When the form is complete, the funeral director or a representative of the veteran, or other organization in charge of the funeral arrangements will obtain a flag from a VA regional office or U.S. Post Office, where the proper flags are kept in supply. The funeral director does this in virtually every case; it is part of their service to the family. The funeral directors will know how to display the flag on the coffin while still at the funeral home, and they will know how to appropriately display the flag at the cemetery.

If the family desires Military Funeral Honors for their veteran’s funeral, the Department of Defense will provide the appropriate personnel. The funeral director will make these arrangements for the family.

All families need to understand that they can request a veteran’s burial flag, but they do not have to have a military-styled funeral with a color guard. Locally, there are veteran service organizations that will voluntarily conduct the flag ceremony if the family desires it (American Legion or VFW for example, whether the veteran was a member of the organization or not), but there is no law that requires a military presence because the deceased was a veteran, and because the family has chosen to use a burial flag on the coffin.

Any two competent people can remove and fold the flag at the proper time
. The funeral directors will tell them when to proceed. If there are no family members or friends who want to do this, the funeral directors will do it for the family. The flag is then presented to the next-of-kin or friend of the deceased.

My father, a Navy veteran of World War II, died rather young. We did not have a burial flag for him. I don’t think it even occurred to our family at the time, but this was in 1966 when I was fourteen so I was not involved in the funeral plans. (Looking back, but in here and now, I would like to have had that burial flag.)

When my second father died, an Army veteran of World War II, we did not have a burial flag for him either. I was not involved in the planning of that service either, but I think those who planned the funeral service thought simple was better. But in fact, there were three Army veterans, and three adult “Boy Scouts” in the immediate family who could have rendered flag honors, not to mention all of his friends in attendance who were also veterans. I think my step-sisters would very much have liked to have their father’s flag.

So remember, every veteran’s family is entitled to a burial flag, regardless of how simple or formal the funeral is to be. And the flag doesn’t even have to be displayed on the coffin; I find no law in the U.S. Code that says so. The flag is a gift to the family in honor of the veteran, and his or her service to the country.

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