In addition to burial allowances, grave markers, and veterans’ cemetery interments, the families of deceased veterans are also eligible for a couple of memorial keepsake items: a burial flag and a memorial certificate signed by the President of the United States.
(Read part 1 of the Final Arrangements series here)
Whether a deceased veteran is buried in a government-funded veterans’ cemetery, a private cemetery, or cremated, the Department of Veterans Affairs provides an American flag to drape the veteran’s casket at the funeral and burial ceremonies, or to accompany the veteran’s urn at the memorial and/or interment ceremonies. Following the ceremony, the flag is folded and presented to the veteran’s next of kin as a keepsake (if your family opts for a cremation or interment with no formal ceremony, you are still entitled to a burial flag as a keepsake item). If the veteran has no living family, the flag can be presented to a designated friend.
Only one flag can be provided for each veteran. If there is a question about which family member should receive the flag, the family should discuss this prior to the ceremony; the honor guard will typically present the flag to the person they are instructed to by the family.
Veterans’ burial flags are made of cotton, which is easily damaged by rain, sunlight, and other harsh weather conditions, so the burial flag should not be flown or displayed outside. It is best to store the folded flag in a display case. Most stores that sell picture frames also sell flag cases, and your local funeral home probably sells them as well.
Most funeral homes will arrange for the burial flag as part of your loved one’s funeral arrangements, at no extra cost to you. Typically, funeral homes keep a supply of burial flags which have been pressed and hung neatly to prevent the flag from being wrinkled or improperly creased at the ceremony. The funeral home will usually provide a burial flag from this supply and then apply for a replacement. This saves you the time and added stress of having to go pick up the flag, as well as the cost of dry-cleaning and pressing it.
If you wish to apply for the burial flag yourself, you can print VA Form 21-2008, Application for United States Flag for Burial Purposes, from the Department of Veterans Affairs website at www.va.gov/vaforms. Take the form, with a copy of the veteran’s military discharge papers, to your VA regional office or to any U.S. Post Office. You will be given a flag right away, but it will usually come folded- in a square rather than the regulation triangle- in a cardboard box, so you should be sure to leave yourself time to have the flag pressed before the ceremony to avoid unsightly wrinkles and creases.
If your veteran’s flag is lost, stolen, or damaged, the Department of Veterans Affairs unfortunately cannot replace it, since the VA is only legally allowed to issue one flag per veteran. The VA recommends that you contact a veterans’ organization or other patriotic community group in your area for help replacing the flag. These groups can also be good resources if you need more than one keepsake flag for family members; flags of the same size and material can also be purchased at most retailers.
Presidential Memorial Certificate
In March of 1962, President John F. Kennedy began signing memorial certificates to be sent to family members of deceased veterans. Every president since has continued the program “to honor the memory of honorably discharged veterans.
The application requirements and procedures are less strict for the Presidential Memorial Certificate than for other benefit items, such as grave markers and burial flags. A certificate can be sent to any “next of kin and loved ones” of the deceased veteran, and the Department of Veterans Affairs will issue more than one certificate if requested. The Presidential Memorial Certificate is a good keepsake for family members who cannot receive the burial flag, or a nice accompaniment to the flag in a memorial display. If your veteran’s Presidential Memorial Certificate is lost, stolen, or damaged, unlike the burial flag, it can be replaced, since more than one can be issued (although depending on how long ago it was issued, it may bear a different presidential signature than the original).
As with other benefit items, your funeral director will usually request your Presidential Memorial Certificate(s) for you as part of the arrangement process. Depending on your funeral home’s procedures and your wishes, the certificate may be mailed to the funeral home so that a funeral director can present it to you personally, or it may be mailed to your personal address.
If you choose to request your own Presidential Memorial Certificate, or if you decide later that you want to request additional certificates, you can print VA Form 40-0247, Presidential Memorial Certificate Request Form, from the VA website at www.va.gov/vaforms. In addition to the request form, you will also need a copy of the veteran’s death certificate and discharge papers; be sure to use copies instead of originals, because the VA will not return original documents, and you will need them for other things. You can take the paperwork to your VA regional center, mail it to the address on the request form, or fax it to 1-800-455-7143.
You should receive your veteran’s Presidential Memorial Certificate in the mail; it may take up to 16 weeks.
Part 1 of this series explained eligibility for VA burial allowances. Part 3 will cover choosing and applying for government-issued grave markers, and Part 4 will discuss cemetery options, including state and national veterans’ cemeteries and private cemeteries, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each choice. Part 5 will explain how to request military honors, what form of honors your (or your loved one’s) service entitle you to, and what to expect at the cemetery on the day of interment.