When a member of the military dies in combat, financial considerations are the last thing to come to mind. But as family members pick up the threads of their lives after losing a spouse, parent or child in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, the service member's death benefits can help shape their future.
The service branches quickly provide grief and benefit
counseling to help shell-shocked relatives navigate immediate needs,
such as paying bills and making funeral arrangements. The services
also make sure relatives know what long-term benefits they have
coming and what paperwork they need to access benefits.
In response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and
the beginning of hostile action in Afghanistan and Iraq, the federal
departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense revitalized the VA's
Casualty Assistance program, incorporating a requirement that casualty
assistance officers, who are assigned to help individual survivors
with burial arrangements and benefits, must personally visit survivors.
Families of the more than 3,000 service members killed in the wars
have access to a number of one-time and ongoing benefits. Besides
VA death benefits, survivors are also entitled to Department of
Defense and Social Security Administration benefits. Many benefits
also apply to reservists or National Guard members who die while
under federally activated orders or who are on inactive duty for
The main toll-free number for information on death
benefits at the VA is (800) 827-1000 or online at www.vba.va.gov.
The Department of Defense's portal to casualty benefits is found
online at www.militaryhomefront.dod.mil.
An overview of Social Security benefits available to survivors is
or via a toll-free number, (800) 772-1213), which is answered from
7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.
||Each branch of the services has its own
casualty assistance center:
Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, is a nonprofit organization
designed to provide support for survivors. Their toll-free, 24-hour
hot line at (800) 959-8277 connects you to peer support, crisis
intervention, grief counseling and assistance in sorting out survivors
benefits. Gold Star Wives, a congressionally chartered organization
for widows and widowers of those killed while on active duty, provides
list of resources. Military.com, for which Bankrate.com is a
content provider, also offers a summary of services
Benefits range from those designed to deal with immediate needs,
such as transporting relatives to funeral services, to meeting ongoing
financial needs and providing education benefits for surviving spouses
and children, among many others.
|Here's a rundown of the benefits in various
In the wake of the death notification, family members often are in shock and may be too upset to think about financial issues. So that bereaved survivors won't suffer from a cash crunch, the law requires that death benefit payments be made to surviving family members within 72 hours of the death notification. This includes insurance payments from Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance, which depend on how much insurance was purchased, and a death gratuity payment of $100,000.
One problem a number of survivors have run into is an out-of-date beneficiary designation on insurance.
"There remains a problem even today where soldiers
who quickly get married before deployment fail to update their SGLI
designations," says Terry Howell, senior content manager at
a Monster.com-owned military information and resource site.
Even if the beneficiary is out-of-date, the closest
relative at least gets the death-gratuity benefit. "The intent
on quick payment is so that family members have the ready cash available
to do whatever is necessary, such as pay off immediate debts, make
funeral arrangements, cover transportation costs for themselves
and family members," Howell says.