The federal government will be covering the costs of the funerals of Afghanistan war veteran Lionel Desmond and the three members of his family he's believed to have killed this week at their home in rural Nova Scotia. 

Shanna Desmond, 10-year-old Aaliyah Desmond and her grandmother Brenda Desmond were found dead from gunshot wounds in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S., Tuesday night. Retired corporal Lionel Desmond shot them and then shot himself, RCMP say. 

Veterans Affairs Minister Kent Hehr phoned family members Saturday, his press secretary Sarah McMaster said. 

Lionel Desmond's sister Cassandra says her family learned Saturday afternoon that Veterans Affairs would be covering the costs of the funerals.

Candlelit vigil planned

The department is now discussing how to pay for the funerals with the Department of National Defence, McMaster said. 

Veterans Affairs Canada typically pays for the funeral, burial services and grave markers for eligible veterans, but not their families. 

Funeral and burial assistance is provided to veterans who die of a service-related injury or illness, or to those in financial need as determined through a means testing of their estate and, if applicable, that of their survivors," the department said in a statement. 

Julie Delorey-Pettipas, who considered Brenda Desmond a good friend, launched a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for funeral expenses. 

By Saturday evening, people had pledged nearly $22,000. Delorey-Pettipas said she plans to discuss with the family how best to spend the money if the campaign meets the $30,000 goal. 

People in Upper Big Tracadie are gathering Saturday evening for a candlelight vigil to remember the four people who died. 

Brenda Desmond

Brenda Desmond, 52, had worked in the construction industry and lived in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S. (Facebook)

With files from the Canadian Press