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Money Impacts Military Honors

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SOUTHERN PINES — The presentation of the American flag. The firing of a salute. Bugles sounding Taps. All are part of a military funeral.

But not all soldiers are receiving these honors.

The military tradition is languishing because of budget decreases and greater demand. On this Memorial Day, soldiers say Congress needs to appropriate more money so they, too, can be buried with honor.

WRAL-TV5 reporter Melissa Buscher spoke with some retired military on this Memorial Day.

"It's what we did all our lives. We should be honored in death as we were honored in life," says CSM David Clark.

But budget cuts have brought an end to full military funerals for all soldiers. Retirees receive full military honors only if they meet a list of requirements including location of the cemetery within a certain distance of a post. Veterans are eligible for a two-member honor guard team to present the flag to surviving family members.

"They deserve more," says Alsee Richardson.

Richardson says full military honors is a benefit he and other soldiers were promised.

"It's a breach of contract," he says. "I joined in 1961. Some of the promises that were made no longer exist."

Last year fewer than 20,000 of the 540,000 veterans who died had active duty honor guards at their funerals. Hundreds of thousands more were laid to rest with a tape-recorded rendition of Taps.

"It's a moral obligation of our country to take care of these soldiers who puts their lives on the line, whether in war or not," said CSM Joseph Lupyak.

Because of complaints, Congress is considering two proposals for military funerals, but neither provides full honors for veterans.

In California, Veterans have created a volunteer honor guard to make sure all soldiers who want one receive a full military funeral.

As the nation pauses this Memorial Day to remember those who served our country, veterans are also wondering if there will be room for them when their time comes.

National cemeteries are running out of space fast. There are 115 sites run by the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than half of those are closed to new burials.