The first national order related to the burial of military men and the marking of their graves came from the War Department in 1861. General Order #75 compelled commanders to assume responsibility for burying and marking the graves of fallen soldiers, and the Quartermaster of the General Army was tasked with providing markers. Today, veterans of all branches of the military are entitled to markers provided by the government whether they are buried in a national or military cemetery or a private location.
Active Duty Deaths
All military personnel killed in the line of duty while in active service are entitled to a government provided marker. As with every eligible recipient, the family of the veteran may receive a flush mounted or standing marker depending on the needs of the cemetery and can have the marker inscribed with basic personal details as well as an endearment, unit number or religious symbol free of charge. The Veterans Affairs department ships the stone if the veteran is to be buried in a private cemetery, or it places the stone if the burial occurs at a state or federal cemetery.
All honourably discharged veterans are entitled to a government marker, although some stipulations were added to the code in the 1980s. An enlisted person whose service began after September 7, 1980 or an officer whose service began after October 16, 1981 must have completed at least 24 months of active duty. If the contract period was longer than 24 months, the veteran must have completed the full term.
Reservists injured during a period of active duty or hospitalised due to injury or disease incurred during duty or training are eligible to receive a military marker. All members of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps are eligible, as are any reservists who met the requirements for retirement pay under Chapter 1223, Title 10 of the U.S. Code.
Other Public Officers
Commissioned officers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the Public Health Service who served full time on or after July 29, 1945 are eligible for free grave markers.
Veterans receiving a dishonourable discharge lose access to all veterans' benefits, including military headstones. Veterans honourably discharged but later convicted of a capital federal offence are similarly barred.