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FUNERAL PLANNING

How to plan a veteran’s funeral

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  • Mel Buttigieg
  • Writer, Bare
  • August 11, 2020
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While coronavirus restrictions on social distancing have caused the cancellation of Dawn Service events across the country this Anzac Day, many Australians are considering how they will mark the national day of remembrance as they isolate. Even though we will commemorate the brave veterans who fought for our country and our freedom differently than in previous years, it’s still important that we, as a nation, do justice to the significance of their sacrifice.

The same holds true when planning a veteran’s funeral. It’s vital that we find a way to properly honour the significant military contribution those men and women made in life by giving them a send-off that commemorates their service.

For most of those who have served in the Australian armed forces, their military contribution is a significant part of their life, so their memorial service should reflect that. A funeral may be religious or secular, but there are some simple touches that can be made to personalise the ceremony in a meaningful way.

Here are some suggestions that can help you and your family organise a funeral for a veteran that commemorates their life and service to the Australian military forces.

Veteran funeral benefits

Firstly, when planning a veteran’s funeral, families should find out if they’re eligible for funeral assistance under the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2004 (MRCA). In many cases, a one-off veteran funeral benefit of up to $2,000 may be available to go towards a veteran’s burial or cremation, and in some cases transportation.

The Department of Veterans Affairs website has more information on who is eligible and how to make a claim. The funeral benefit will help ease the financial stress on the family during the planning process, allowing more freedom to create a meaningful end of life service.

Families wishing to plan an annual celebration of remembrance in honour of their dearly departed veteran, or a memorial occasion of national importance, may also be eligible for up to $250 for floral and non-floral tributes.

In addition to funeral benefits for veterans, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs may also be able to assist with pensions for war widowed partners and other payments.

Families wishing to plan an annual celebration of remembrance in honour of their dearly departed veteran, or a memorial occasion of national importance, may also be eligible for up to $250 for floral and non-floral tributes.

Personalising a memorial with war memorabilia

How you personalise your loved one’s memorial will depend on the individual life you’re celebrating, but adding military touches will make a veteran’s funeral all the more memorable. When considering what to have at a veteran’s funeral, think about how you might personalise the service with music, decorations and other details that commemorate their military contribution. This can easily be done by prominently displaying your loved one’s war medals, photographs of their time in service and other personal memorabilia like a slouch hat or another piece of their military uniform. Wearing poppies or sprigs of rosemary can also act as a symbol of remembrance at veteran funerals.

Another option is to lay a flag over the casket – either the Australian national flag, or the flag of one of the branches of the Australian Defence Force which the veteran served under, i.e: the Royal Australian Navy Ensign or the Royal Australian Air Force Ensign.

How to plan a veteran funeral: Poppies can help commemorate their military contribution.
Poppies at a veteran’s funerals can help commemorate their military contribution.

RSL Poppy Service

Whether a deceased veteran was an active member of an RSL sub branch or not, families can request an RSL representative to facilitate a formal Poopy Service component to a veteran’s funeral.

A Poppy Service is a simple addition to a funeral or memorial where a member will present the veteran’s military service record, facilitate the reciting of The Ode, the sounding of The Last Post and Rouse, and provide poppies for the service.

If a casket is present, the RSL representative will be the first to lay a poppy on the casket, then invite the family to do so, before other mourners follow suit. The Poppy Service represents a veteran’s final act of bravery, and involving their loved ones in the ceremony shows they are not alone during this significant time.

A Poppy Service is available to anyone who has served in the Australian Defence Force. It is one of the ways that the RSL honours servicemen and women for their contribution to the military and is also a way to support the veteran’s family through this difficult time.

If your loved one was in touch with other service people or veterans in the area, you might ask if they’d like to serve as pallbearers. Camaraderie is a defining value of our armed forces and supporting fellow veterans to act as pallbearers can serve as an important act of closure, both for the veteran and also for their comrades.

The Last Post

Rather than traditional funeral songs, there’s an option of playing martial or patriotic songs at the service instead.

At war, The Last Post is the bugle call that signifies the end of the day’s activities. At a funeral – or commemoration service such as ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day – sounding the Last Post symbolises the soldier’s journey through life coming to an end. If possible, arranging for a live bugler to sound the Last Post at military funerals can be a fitting touch.

How to plan a veteran funeral: army uniform commemorates their life and service.
Displaying part of a veteran’s uniform at their funeral commemorates their life and service.

Request a memorial plaque

Aside from a funeral assistance payment, many veterans are also entitled to an official post-war commemoration in a cemetery or a crematorium at the site of interment, or in an Office of Australian War Graves Garden of Remembrance.

Eligible veterans who have served in Australia’s Defence Forces are entitled to an official war grave memorial inscribed service emblem to place on their privately arranged memorial, through the Office of Australian War Graves (OAWG).

If your loved one is being buried in a lawn cemetery, the OAWG usually provides a bronze plaque for the eligible veteran. They are cast in bronze and inscribed with the veteran’s initials and surname, service number, rank and unit, along with their age and date of passing and their service badge.

For loved ones who will be cremated, the OAWG can arrange for the placement of the ashes and the setting of the plaque in a crematorium wall niche instead.

To assist families wishing to scatter the ashes privately or keep them at home, the OAWG can place your loved one’s commemorative plaque in the Garden of Remembrance in your nearest capital city. Individual plaques are placed on walls among flowers and plants. The Garden includes shelters and quiet places to encourage loved ones and friends to sit, reflect and remember.

Memorial donations in lieu of flowers

At a time of loss, people often express sympathy by sending flowers to the family of the deceased. However families are increasingly requesting others to honour their loved ones by donating to a designated charity instead. Veterans are known for devoting their lives to serve their country, so it’s fitting to continue that legacy through a charity memorial in lieu of flowers to keep on serving the community.

You might wish to contact your local RSL club to find out about how to set up a donation in honour of your loved one to help the organisation continue to support our past and present servicemen, women and their families. Also consider other services that support veterans like Soldier On or the Veterans & Veteran’s Families Counselling Service, and even Lifeline.

You can read more about planning personalised memorials in our article on 10 alternatives to a traditional funeral service. For help personalising your loved one’s funeral or memorial, visit theBare Cremation website.

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