New Funeral Program Teams Military, Vets' Groups
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 5, 2001 DoD is teaming with veterans service organizations across the country to enhance traditional funeral ceremonies that honor the nation's military veterans.
Representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the military services, the Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans service organizations, the National Cemetery Administration, the Funeral Directors Association and other groups met June 28 at American Legion headquarters here for the announcement of the Authorized Provider Partnership Program's July debut.
Charles S. Abell, assistant secretary of defense for force management policy, said the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and other groups will be asked to augment DoD- provided personnel at military funerals by providing volunteers to serve as color guards, rifle detail members, pallbearers and buglers.
"We want to provide the appropriate honors to veterans who pass away," Abell told the American Forces Information Service at the Pentagon. "The veterans organizations want to help us, and we would like to have their help. (The program) will enhance the honors that can be rendered with their performance."
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2000 authorizes the partnership program and also states DoD will provide at least two active, National Guard or reserve uniformed service members to fold and present a ceremonial U.S. flag to survivors at military funerals. One of the two detail members must be of the same service as the deceased.
DoD also provides a military musician -- if available -- to play "Taps," or the music is rendered via high-quality compact disc. The CDs, recorded at Arlington National Cemetery in 1999, are part of a kit sent to licensed funeral directors working in association with DoD, veterans service organizations, and all active and reserve component military units conducting funerals.
Almost 450,000 active duty and reserve component service members participated in military funeral details in 2000, DoD officials noted.
The partnered veterans groups have augmented DoD efforts and "provided enhancements" to military funerals in the past, Abell said. Such help has been historically encouraged and authorized, he noted.
"What we have now is a formal program where veterans service organizations can be trained by the local (military) installation commander ... (to) ensure that the quality of the honors rendered are to standard and that the funeral honors rendered in any particular place around the nation will be the same," he said.
Installation commanders will train and certify volunteers, Abell said. The volunteers, he added, are eligible for reimbursement of their travel expenses, such as gas and meals associated with their ceremonial duties.
Other groups, he added, such as ROTC detachments and reserve component advisory units could also participate in the program.
This month, officials said, letters introducing the program, a 20-minute training video, and pins for presentation to participants will be mailed to military unit commanders. Letters explaining the program and training videos will also be mailed to veterans service organizations.
Abell, attending the Washington meeting with John M. Molino, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, remarked that America's World War II and Korean War veterans are passing on at increased rates.
DoD officials note that 91,074 military funeral honors were performed in 2000, a 110-percent increase over the 43,277 funerals performed in 1999. All the military services report increased military funeral honors ceremonies so far this year.
Retired Army Col. Mike Duggan, the American Legion's deputy director of national security and foreign relations, said at the meeting that he salutes DoD for mandating support for military funerals, an endeavor that in recent years has been strained by force reductions in the 1990s and an aging veteran population.
Duggan, a Vietnam War infantry combat veteran, noted that World War II vets comprise about 40 percent of the Legion's membership. While the American Legion today has about 4,000 funeral detail teams, "we're losing the people who are providing the (funeral) honors as well," he said.
Military officials said additional reserve component participation is augmenting the active duty military funeral teams. However, Abell reiterated the importance of participation by organizations outside DoD.
"In order to provide a more complete service, with a firing detail, color guard and pallbearers, we rely on the patriotism and volunteerism of the veterans service organizations," he said. "Any enhancements that we can provide would just make that better, but the minimum requirement will be met for any family of an authorized veteran who requests such honors."
Providing final honors for the nation's veterans is "the right thing to do," Abell said. "We asked them to put their lives on the line for the freedoms we all enjoy today. As they reach the end of their lives, the nation has a commitment to them, owes them an honor as they pass.
"For those who want that honor, we will provide it."
(EDITOR'S NOTE: For more information about Military Funeral Honors, and how to request such services, see the Web site http://www.militaryfuneralhonors.osd.mil.)