Surviving family benefits
In addition to the death gratuity, the surviving spouse and family receive payment from the government for unused accrued leave, reimbursement for part of the costs of burial, Dependency Indemnity Compensation, or DIC, of $1,154 per month, TRICARE health care coverage and Basic Allowance for Housing, or BAH, for one year.
"These benefits go until the survivor dies," says Neiberger-Miller. "The benefits do change over time; for example, the children do age out of TRICARE at age 18 unless they go to college, where they're able to stay on for a few extra years."
Veterans' Group Life Insurance
Upon separation, a service member with full SGLI coverage may convert their coverage to renewable term life through the Veterans' Group Life Insurance program, or VGLI. Term coverage is available in multiples of $10,000 up to the SGLI maximum.
VGLI rates, (effective July 2008) for a $400,000 term policy range in five-year increments from $32 a month up through age 29, to $68 per month for ages 40-44, $144 a month for ages 50-54, $432 for ages 60-64 and $900 per month for ages 70-74.
Among the advantages of VGLI: Rates are the same regardless of sex or tobacco use, no medical exam or health review required if you apply within 120 days after separation, and no exclusions for mental health issues, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or acts of war.
Service members also have the option to convert their SGLI to a permanent whole life policy at regular rates from a VA list of participating insurance companies.
Financial and bereavement counseling
SGLI, FSCL and VGLI beneficiaries receive free full-service financial planning services through the VA's Beneficiary Financial Counseling Service.
Neiberger-Miller says the one underrated benefit available to all surviving family members is bereavement counseling, available for life at any VA center.
"Without it, financial issues can become overwhelming," she says. "Research shows that it takes five to seven years for survivors to hit their new normal. It's not uncommon for survivors to have short-term memory loss for up to a year after the death. You can't put a dollar figure on bereavement counseling. Somebody might go two or three times, somebody else might go every week for five years. When you consider that that might cost $100 a week, it adds up to a significant benefit."