New funeral program teams military, veterans groups

The Defense Department 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 in Washington 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 Defense 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 Defense 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.

Defense 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 Defense, 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, Defense officials noted.

The partnered veterans groups have augmented Defense 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.

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