In this podcast with Rebekah Peoples from Boston Cremation, we discuss what Veterans’ death benefits are and how they can be helpful for bereaved families who are making final arrangements for their loved ones.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Rebekah Peoples, a licensed funeral director with Boston Cremation. Today we’re talking about Veteran’s death benefits. Welcome, Rebekah.
Rebekah Peoples: Thanks, John.
Veterans’ Death Benefits Defined
John Maher: Rebekah, when a Veteran passes away, whether on active duty or after retirement, they receive certain Veteran’s death benefits. Can you tell us what some of those death benefits are?
Rebekah Peoples: Yes. There are some monetary benefits, but you have to meet certain criteria in order to be eligible for those. These are veterans who were discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. That’s eligible for a burial flag. Even if the person is not being buried, but is being cremated, we can get a flag for that purpose. They are also eligible for military honors and eligible for burial in a veteran cemetery, and for a marker or a medallion for the marker.
What Are Military Honors?
John Maher: So let’s go through each one of those benefits. Tell me a little bit more about military honors and what that means.
Rebekah Peoples: Military honors is something that is performed either at the place where the service is, like if they have a service at the funeral home, if they have a service at church, or something at the grave site. Usually [it occurs] at the grave site. If they’re not — if the person was cremated and they’re not going to be buried — there can be military honors at the place where the service is.
John Maher: Okay.
Rebekah Peoples: Military honors, for most Veterans, consists of two or three active military people from the branch of the service that the person was involved in during their military time. Those people will come. They can stand guard or they can do the actual honors after the ceremony is complete, where they fold the flag. There’s the playing of Taps. The flag is presented to the next-of-kin or whoever is designated to receive the flag. That’s something that most people, who have ever been to a funeral where they’ve seen that, remember that. It’s a very moving part of the ceremony.
John Maher: Yes, often you’ll see them take those very deliberate marching steps.
Rebekah Peoples: Yes.
John Maher: And then turn very quickly and do a salute to the family or maybe the wife or husband of the person who’s passed away, something like that. It’s very striking.
Rebekah Peoples: It is.
John Maher: You definitely feel honored in the way that it’s intended to convey, I think. It makes you remember that this person who passed away was a very special person who gave their service to our country. That’s important to remember that.
Rebekah Peoples: I’m so glad you mentioned all of that because it is so memorable. A lot of times, it’s people who maybe served 50, 60 years ago.
John Maher: Right.
Rebekah Peoples: But it’s still a part of their life. In some instances, family members will tell us, “Dad used to talk about it all the time.” In some cases, we occasionally come across people who will say, “He didn’t talk a whole lot about it, but I know that it was a very meaningful time in his life.”
John Maher: People deal with that in different ways, especially if they served during a war time.
Rebekah Peoples: You’re exactly right. Yes. For some people, it follows them in ways that are difficult to deal with during life, but this is a way to honor that. To honor the sacrifice that they made and what they did for this country. I think that, for those of us who have never served, it just is such an appreciation for what these people have done. To be honored at your death with a military honors — I just think it is a really meaningful tribute of the sacrifice that these people have made.
John Maher: Right. You mentioned the flag. Tell me a little bit more about the flag. I know I’ve seen flags draped over a casket or a coffin at the grave site when somebody’s being buried. How does that work in the case of a cremation?
Rebekah Peoples: In the case of a cremation where they’re going to be burying the urn, the flag is already folded into the triangle and it usually sits next to the urn. The two people who are part of the Honor Guard will take the flag and, as Taps is being played, they hold the flag. They unfold it. They hold the flag straight, straight out while Taps is being played. Then they refold the flag into the triangle and present it to the family.
John Maher: That’s another interesting part of the military ceremony as well. It’s that special way that they fold the flag. They fold it in — I think it’s in thirds or something like that, or in quarters. I forget.
Rebekah Peoples: In a triangle.
John Maher: Then they fold it across and across into the triangle so that it ends up with the stars showing at the end, and then they tuck the end in. It creates this neat triangle-shaped package and then you’ll usually see them present that again to the family who’s left behind.
Rebekah Peoples: Yes. And, you know, I think that’s really interesting, because the point you bring up — because I’m visualizing while we’re talking — going back to what you were talking about, with their steps being so regimented and so deliberate, is that after the flag is completely folded, the one military person will present it to the other one and salute it.
John Maher: Right.
Rebekah Peoples: And the other one salutes, when the first one is holding the flag after the folding. And I was explaining that to someone recently, about them saluting the flag; and as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I realized, they’re not saluting the flag, they’re saluting this Veteran.
John Maher: Right. Right.
Rebekah Peoples: And the fact that they served for this symbol of our freedom.
John Maher: Yes.
Rebekah Peoples: It’s interesting, because I tell people that I’ve been a funeral director for over 30 years, but every time I see those military honors, it’s touching. And when you talked about them folding the flag — as they are folding the flag, there’s complete silence. Nobody even whispers to the person next to them.
John Maher: Right. Right. And people take that flag, the family takes that flag home. I think I’ve seen that some people will get a frame for that or something. Put the flag in a frame and have that as a remembrance of that person who has passed away for a long time.
Rebekah Peoples: That’s true.
John Maher: Right. It could get passed down in the family for generations even.
Rebekah Peoples: I’m sure that there are people who have flags in their home for that very purpose that have less than 50 stars on them.
Military Markers and Medallions
John Maher: Right. Yes. Amazing. You mentioned markers and medallions as well, what are those?
Rebekah Peoples: If the veteran is being buried in the National cemetery or buried even in another cemetery that is not a Veterans’ cemetery, one of the other benefits is that they are entitled to a free marker. And we all have seen those walking through the cemetery. Normally, it’s a granite marker that’s like one foot by two feet. A lot of times it’s at the foot of the grave, and it’s either granite or bronze. And that’s something that the Veterans’ Administration provides free of charge for any Veteran that’s buried.
One option to that is that sometimes the family will already have a headstone that has the Veteran’s name on it. Instead of getting that foot marker or another marker, whether it’s bronze or granite that’s flat on the ground, they can get a medallion and those come in three different sizes, ranging from like three and half inches in diameter up to six inches in diameter. And that is to be mounted on the existing marker. That’s something that they just started doing within the last few years. But it’s a beautiful medallion that is placed on the marker. Most of the cemeteries will allow that to be placed or will place that there for you with some type of permanent adhesive so that it can’t be stolen.
John Maher: Okay. I think I’ve seen in looking at some cemeteries, some older veterans who do have some sort of medal or medallion that’s on maybe like a small pole or something like that that’s next to the gravestone. Is that something that they used to do a long time ago, do you know? They might have even been from the civil war or something.
Rebekah Peoples: Nowadays, it’s mostly provided by the county’s Veterans Association. Not all counties provide those.
John Maher: Okay.
Rebekah Peoples: And it’s actually a flag holder.
John Maher: Okay.
Rebekah Peoples: Because it has loops in the back for the flag to go into. But they are specialized with what war the person served during.
John Maher: That might be what I’m thinking of. Yes.
Rebekah Peoples: Yes.
Burial in a Veterans’ Cemetery
John Maher: Interesting. You mentioned also a burial in a Veterans’ cemetery. That that’s an option for veterans as well. How does that get arranged?
Rebekah Peoples: Yes. We arrange for that, for a burial in a Veterans’ cemetery. And when you think– of course, it’s an honor to be buried in a Veteran’s cemetery, but it is a significant cost savings, too, when you consider what the price of a cremation grave is. And that’s something that is available.
Just like other kinds of cemeteries, the military or veterans’ cemeteries also have the option of having the urn or the person’s ashes buried in the ground just like a traditional grave, or they also have a wall that has open spaces in it that the front comes off like it’s a granite or a marble plate on the front where the person’s name would go and their dates. In some cases, people can have those put in with whatever urn that they’ve select, but you would need to check first because there are certain dimensions of those. But people would have that option of having the urn placed in one of the walls or placed in the ground, whichever they choose.
Financial Veterans’ Death Benefits
John Maher: Okay, all right. Interesting. You mentioned also that in some cases there are monetary benefits for veterans. How does that work?
Rebekah Peoples: Monetary benefits are usually paid under a couple of different circumstances. If the person was receiving some type of pension or disability from the VA, they will be eligible for some monetary benefits. The other thing is if the Veteran died in a Veterans’ facility, a Veterans’ hospital, or a Veterans’ approved nursing home, then they are also eligible for certain benefits monetarily.
Unfortunately, we are living in a time where we have young men and women who are giving their lives now in service of this country, and if someone dies under active duty conditions, the benefits are completely different. [They are] much more extensive if someone is killed while in active duty.
John Maher: Okay. All right. That’s really interesting information and good information for everybody to keep in mind if they have a loved one who passes away who’s a Veteran. Thank you again for speaking with me today, Rebekah.
Rebekah Peoples: You’re welcome.
John Maher: For more information, you can visit bostoncremation.org or call 781-322-0909.