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Military Honors Reinstated for Funerals

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FORT BRAGG — The flags, honor guards and rifle team are not guaranteed for veterans.

Until recently, not all veterans and retirees in North Carolina were receiving military honors at their funerals. Public outrage, however, has prompted changes.

At 61 years of age, retired Chief Warren Officer Ronald Houck is still going strong. But he has thought about his future.

After serving in the Army for 23 years, he wants a military funeral. "It's something we earned," he says.

But last year, due to army cutbacks, military funerals with full honors were no longer guaranteed if you lived more than 100 miles from Fort Bragg.

"I don't think your location should have anything to do with it -- whether you are 10 miles, 100 miles or wherever," Houck says.

That sentiment was echoed throughout North Carolina. It prompted Fort Bragg to rethink its policy for retirees.

"At the time, it seemed appropriate based on our mission," says LTC Gary Keck, spokesman for the 18th Airborne Corps. "But Gen. Kernan took a look at that and said we can support this by reducing the number of personnel, which we did -- to eight people. We feel it's an important obligation to honor those who have served."

Lack of personnel for military funerals has become a problem nationwide. Since 1989 the size of the military has decreased by 35 percent but the number of veteran deaths has grown dramatically.

In 1997, the nation mourned the passing of more than 530,000 veterans. That number was up by 18 percent from 1989 and is expected to increase by 36 percent in 2008.

In response to veteran complaints, the Department of Defense has come up with a plan that would send at least two people to every military funeral. They would rely on National Guard and reserve forces to help meet the demand. Congress has not yet acted on that proposal.

Fort Bragg has now committed to more than the minimum. There will be a two-soldier funeral detail for veterans, eight for retirees -- no matter where they live in the state.

A fitting tribute for not just old warriors, but for their families.

Anyone who would like more information on the changes in burial benefits can call1-800-682-6973during regular business hours.