A casualty assistance officer is assigned to help families with important matters and to serve as a liaison between the family and the service branch. Your casualty assistance officer is prepared to discuss your options for a funeral, as well as the burial of your loved one and will also help you understand the government entitlements and reimbursement for the costs associated with these services.
Decisions relating to funerals and burials are the responsibility of the person authorized to direct disposition of remains, but the PADD will receive guidance and assistance from the casualty assistance officer. According to federal law, a PADD is the person identified by the decedent on the Record of Emergency Data, regardless of the relationship of the designee to the decedent, and each service member is required to designate a PADD. When a service member dies while on active duty, inactive duty training or active duty for training, the Department of Defense will assume responsibility for the preparation, casketing and transportation of the remains to the destination chosen by the PADD. However, if you wish, you can engage a funeral director to perform these services and make private arrangements. Your casualty assistance officer will be able to assist you with your decision and answer any questions that you may have.
Transportation of your loved one
There are two types of escorts authorized to accompany the remains of active duty service members: a military member selected by the deceased member's command or appointed by the service casualty office, or someone designated by the PADD. A family escort requires official approval. Obtaining this approval can be a lengthy process, which may cause a delay in moving the remains. Your casualty assistance officer can provide you with details.
If the service member died overseas and burial will be in the United States, the remains will be returned to the United States as soon as possible, usually within a few days depending on the circumstances and location of loss. Your casualty assistance officer will be given the date and time the remains are scheduled to arrive at their final destination. Weather conditions and flight cancellations can alter schedules. For this reason, you should delay choosing a date for the funeral until the remains of your loved one have arrived. This will avoid the need to change the date of the funeral, which might add confusion and stress to this already strenuous time.
The viewing of your loved one's remains
You may be wondering if you will be able to see your loved one. Your casualty assistance officer will be able to discuss this with you. A licensed mortician will make a recommendation concerning the viewing of remains. If the mortician recommends against viewing your loved one, we recommend you discuss your options with your family funeral director, who will advise you whether viewing the remains is in your best interest.
The PADD will determine where the burial will take place. If the service member has not designated a PADD on his DD Form 93, the PADD will be determined by the service casualty office in accordance with existing laws and regulations. The DoD will provide all necessary assistance through the casualty assistance officer to satisfy the PADD's decision on burial location to include burial in a national, state, private or public cemetery. All active duty service members are eligible for interment in Arlington National Cemetery or any national cemetery that has available space. Information on burial in a national cemetery is available from any local office of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Spouses and children under 18 years old may be buried with their loved ones in VA national cemeteries. Your funeral director will assist you with burial arrangements for any cemetery in the National Cemetery System, including Arlington National Cemetery.
Transportation of family
The government will provide transportation to the burial site for the service member's immediate family, including the surviving spouse, children, siblings of the service member, the parents of both the service member and the surviving spouse, and the PADD. Your casualty assistance officer will be able to assist with these arrangements. If family members prefer to make their own arrangements, they may be reimbursed up to the government rate. Eligible family members can be authorized to receive travel and per diem expenses to attend the funeral. The PADD may elect two close family members if no authorized travelers use their travel entitlement. The DoD recommends that family members not make any travel plans until they have spoken with their casualty assistance officer.
Your loved one's military unit may schedule a memorial service as a way for fellow unit members to honor him or her. You may be eligible for funded travel to the memorial service; check with your casualty assistance officer for details.
Your casualty assistance officer will be able to discuss with you any military honors due to your service member. If you choose a military funeral, the casualty assistance officer will help plan the funeral service. This could include coordinating with military or civilian clergy, arranging for the funeral honors detail, obtaining interment flags, and presenting the flags and other awards.
During the funeral honors ceremony, the spouse of the service member, the PADD and each child of the decedent will receive a flag, as will the member's parents. Divorced parents will each receive a flag. Specific information about burial honors can be found at the Military Funeral Honors website.
If you choose to make private arrangements, you may be reimbursed for normal expenses. The maximum reimbursable amount depends on the conditions selected for burial. For example, when the service arranges for preparation and casket (selected by the family) and remains are consigned directly for burial in a government cemetery, the maximum reimbursable amount is $1,000; however, if the family chooses to arrange for preparation, casketing and burial in a private cemetery, then the maximum reimbursable amount is $8,800. Transportation costs are covered by the service. Before making any financial commitments, you should verify with your casualty assistance officer if the expense is reimbursable. The DoD wants you to be able to make informed decisions and not experience additional anguish because of any misunderstandings. Your casualty assistance officer will assist the person filing the claim and ensure all required receipts and other supporting documents are attached.
Regardless of whether the family chooses military or private arrangements, your casualty assistance officer will assist you and your funeral director in coordinating interment activities. This may include transporting family members, arranging lodging and confirming departure arrangements. Should the PADD choose to have the remains buried overseas, the service's mortuary affairs office will arrange for transportation to the place of final burial.
Return of personal effects
The prompt delivery of the deceased service member's personal belongings is an important function of your loved one's commanding officer. Your casualty assistance officer will provide specific information concerning the return of your loved one's personal effects. Whenever possible, he or she will be present to help when the property is delivered.
Should you desire legal assistance, your casualty assistance officer will request an appointment with a DoD legal assistance officer if you are the primary next of kin or the decedent's legally recognized estate representative. The casualty assistance officer will attend the meeting with you, if requested to do so. The legal assistance officer will advise you on legal issues that can have a profound effect on the benefits and entitlements you receive. The legal assistance office will also assist in the preparation of income tax returns and can explain the tax implications of various benefit-related elections that you may be asked to make. It is important to review the service member's will and any estate-planning documents before applying for insurance or other monetary benefits. These documents could have a major impact on the results of these filings.
Your casualty assistance officer can help you obtain copies of official or investigative reports. Requests for any report should include a copy of the Report of Casualty Form (DD Form 1300), as well as a copy of your government issued photo ID card or state-issued driver's license.