The loss of a service member to military-related causes is always a tragedy. No one ever wants to need the information in this blog.
However, families who are coping with the devastation that accompany such a loss do need concrete facts. It’s reassuring to know that the military has programs in place to help spouses, children, and other family members regain their financial footing. Taken all together, the value of these benefits is very likely to exceed $500,000. This is the least that can be done for those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Following is a listing of benefits available to families of service members whose deaths are a result of military service. Typically, these benefits are offered to families of those service members who die during active duty, including as a result of training. This also includes deaths that occur while a service member was traveling to the place of duty. Some benefits are also extended to the families of veterans who die as a result of service-related injury or disease, or who die of non-service-related issues after being disabled by service-related issues.
- Death Gratuity payment This is a $100,000 benefit paid within 72 hours of the death of an active duty service member that is a result of service. Its purpose is to assist family with immediate concerns. The service member will have filled out a form designating who will receive this payment. This sum is not taxed.
- Funeral and burial costs payment When a member dies on active duty, the amount paid towards preparation, burial, and interment will vary from $1000-$8700, depending on whether the military handles arrangements or the family chooses a private cemetery. Travel costs for immediate family will also be paid. Veterans whose death was service-related receive up to $2000 in funeral and burial benefits and are also eligible for free burial in a VA cemetery. More information on funeral and burial benefits is available in this post.
- Back pay and unpaid leave Of course, survivors will receive all back pay owed, as well as payment owed for any leave that has not been taken.
- Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance payment All service members are automatically insured in this program to the maximum $400,000 benefit, unless they have cancelled it or reduced its benefits in writing. Benefits will either be paid out in 36 installments or in one lump sum (this decision will have been made by the service member at time of enrollment).
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) DIC is paid out to survivors of any service member who dies on active duty or in training as a result of service-related diseases, injury, or condition, as well as to survivors of veterans whose deaths were service-related. DIC is also paid out to survivors of some veterans who were totally disabled by military service at the time of their deaths. Under DIC, the spouse and each child receive COLA-adjusted flat rate payments. Payments to children extend to age 21, or 23 if enrolled in college. Payments to spouses continue for life, or until the spouse remarries (payments continue if the spouse remarried after age 57). It is important to note that if spouses are also eligible for Survivors’ Benefit Plan (SBP) benefits, these will be reduced by the amount paid out in DIC.
- Survivor Benefit Plan The SBP provides a COLA-adjusted monthly income to survivors of service members killed in the line of duty, based on a percentage of their pay. As noted above, it’s important to understand that spousal SBP payments will be reduced by the amount paid out in DIC. For this reason, some spouses choose to opt out of SBP for themselves and to have the whole benefit go to children, whose benefit is not affected by DIC. This decision cannot be reversed.
- Medical Care For the first 3 years after the death of an active duty service member, surviving spouses and dependents are eligible for full-active duty health benefits at no cost. After three years, children remain eligible for full benefits, while spouses will transition to Tricare.
- Housing assistance Surviving spouses and family members retain the right to their service member’s BAH or military housing for one year after the date of death. Families also have the right to have one move paid for by the military in the 3 years following the death of the active duty member.
- Tax liability forgiveness Income taxes already paid may be forgiven or may not have to be paid for the person who has died in the year after the death of an active duty service member. Family members can get help with their tax situation at their closest military installation, or consult IRS guidelines.
- VA Home loan assistance Surviving spouses are eligible to apply for VA loans. Though this is not technically a monetary benefit, it may still be very useful to surviving spouses due to the unique benefits of this product. To learn more about VA loans, visit Part 1 and Part 2 of our series on this program.
- Educational benefits Surviving spouses and children are eligible for a number of important educational benefits, including transfer of GI Bill benefits and programs and scholarships that may pay up to 100% of costs. For more information, visit A Survivor’s Guide to Benefits.
- Commissary and exchange privileges Surviving spouse and dependents retain the right to shop at commissaries and exchanges. Spouses retain this right unless they remarry, and children retain it until age 21. Sorting out and understanding all these different benefits and programs can feel extremely overwhelming at a time of grief and sorrow. Fortunately, the military assigns each bereaved family a Casualty Assistance Officer who assists families in sorting out these matters. However, it is still important to remember that many of these benefits must be applied for.
There is nothing that can ever replace the loss of a family member, but the military works hard to help families facing this grief. Knowing that these programs are there to assist with financial needs may be a comfort to families.
Department of Defense. (n.d.) Military compensation: Death gratuity. Retrieved from http://militarypay.defense.gov/Benefits/Death-Gratuity/
Department of Defense. (2017). A survivor’s guide to benefits. Retrieved from http://download.militaryonesource.mil/12038/MOS/ResourceGuides/A-Survivors-Guide-To-Benefits.pdf
Military.com. (n.d.) Transitioning from Military Service. Retrieved from http://www.military.com/money/retirement/military-retirement/transitioning-out-of-military-service.html
MyArmyBenefits. (2016). Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP). Retrieved from https://myarmybenefits.us.army.mil/Benefit-Library/Federal-Benefits/Survivor-Benefit-Plan-(SBP)?serv=126
We’ll be talking about Estate Planning for Families with Special Needs on Tuesday, August 15 at 11 a.m. ET. For more information about joining this 90-minute webinar, visit the event page.