You and your family may face tough decisions concerning your deceased loved one, as well as have concerns for the future of your family. To ensure that you receive the highest level of support during this difficult time, you will be assigned a casualty assistance officer.
What is a casualty assistance officer?
A casualty assistance officer provides surviving spouses and children of deceased service members assistance throughout the casualty process. He or she is the person to whom you should address any of your questions, as he or she will be your primary connection to the Department of Defense.
At different times in your loved one's military career, he or she has been given the opportunity to make choices with regard to notification of next-of-kin, payment of death gratuity, unpaid pay and allowances, and disposition of remains in the event he or she becomes a casualty. The DoD Form 93 (Record of Emergency Data) provides this information. The DoD is required to follow applicable laws and the instructions of your loved one with regard to these benefits and entitlements. Your casualty assistance officer will assist you in seeing that these instructions are carried out.
How long your casualty assistance officer assists you depends on your circumstances. However, your casualty assistance officer will continue to assist you until all benefits and entitlements, for which you are eligible, have been processed. Afterward, your service will have staff available to help you with any concerns that may arise. When family members are spread over several cities or states, there may be several casualty assistance officers involved.
Each of the branches of service has different titles for their casualty assistance officers. Although the titles may differ, the services provided by each of these individuals are the same.
- Army. Casualty Assistance Officer
- Marine Corps. Casualty Assistance Calls Officer
- Navy. Casualty Assistance Calls Officer
- Air Force. Casualty Assistance Representative
- Coast Guard. Casualty Assistance Calls Officer
Meeting your casualty assistance officer
Shortly after you have been notified of your loved one's death, you will receive a phone call from your casualty assistance officer to arrange a visit, unless your casualty assistance officer is the one who notified you of the loss of your loved one. Your casualty assistance officer will ask if you have any immediate problems, confirm your mailing address and arrange to meet with you at the earliest time and place convenient to you. It is important that you meet with your casualty assistance officer as soon as possible, usually within 24 hours of his or her call. The first assistance visit will be brief, probably lasting less than an hour. The main purpose of this first visit is to exchange information. It may feel like a tremendous amount of information to deal with, coming so quickly after the death of your loved one. You may want assistance from a counselor, a doctor, an interpreter or even a member of your church. Your casualty assistance officer can help you connect with these support providers, and you may have other family members present if you desire.
Your casualty assistance officer will also ask you to provide an address where you may be reached for the next 45 days. If this is not the same as your current mailing address, you should provide both your current and future addresses. These addresses will be used to provide you with information from your casualty assistance officer, the DoD and other concerned parties. Please let your casualty assistance officer know immediately if this information changes.
Verifying family information
Your casualty assistance officer will also verify the accuracy of the family information in DoD records. It is his or her job to confirm the status of all known family members, including the marital status of the deceased service member, any previous marriages, divorce decrees and child custody orders. Casualty assistance officers will not request sensitive personal data such as social security numbers, birth dates or banking information over the phone. Your casualty assistance officer may ask for copies of important documents to help prevent delays or denials of benefits.
It is especially important to identify all the service member's children. In some cases, a service member has not identified all children on the Record of Emergency Data. Please don't be offended if your casualty assistance officer asks you whether a loved one was married before and if there are any children from that or other relationships. Additionally, he or she will want to know if the deceased service member was known by a name other than the given name, such as a nickname, middle name or maiden name.
Because of federal law and individual service member elections, it is possible that the primary next-of-kin, the person eligible to receive personal effects and the person authorized to direct disposition of human remains are the same person. It is equally possible that they could be three different people; therefore, the casualty assistance officer will explain these to you.
Your casualty assistance officer will schedule a follow-up visit soon after the initial visit and will continue to schedule as many follow-up visits as necessary. Depending on your branch of service, you may also meet with a mortuary affairs officer. During these meetings, you will discuss payment of the death gratuity, preparation for the funeral, any honors due to your loved one and any questions you may have.
Responding to the media
Newspapers, radio, and television often provide information on local service members who have given their lives in service for our country. It is your choice whether you wish to speak to the media directly or maintain your privacy and have the military support you in your dealings with the media. If you would like assistance, your casualty assistance officer can help by putting you in touch with a public affairs officer who is accustomed to dealing with the media. You will be able to discuss whatever information you would like to share and how you would like to share it.
The person most closely related to the service member is considered the primary next-of-kin. Federal statutes provide certain benefits to a service member's relatives and, in some cases, to non-family members. Some benefits are based upon a person's relationship to the service member and the role he or she played in the service member's life. Other benefits are based on choices made by the service member.
As a matter of policy, the DoD will not release any casualty information to the media or the general public until 24 hours after the last next-of-kin has been notified. In multi-loss incidents, the 24-hour requirement will start after the last next-of-kin of all decedents has been notified.
Privacy act and authorization for disclosure of information
The DoD requires detailed information from you in order to fully assist in the settlement of your loved one's personal affairs and financial accounts, with regard to his or her military service, as well as the initiation of any survivor benefits that may apply to you. You are not required to provide this information; however, without it, your casualty assistance officer may not be able to assist you in settling your loved one's personal affairs or applying for certain benefits. This information may also be used by other government agencies, as well as other selected agencies, such as an insurance company or bank, to process or disburse benefits and entitlements. The DoD will store some or all of this information in the Defense Casualty Information Processing System, which is a controlled access information system that the services use to manage each casualty case.
Because the DoD receives many requests from private individuals, organizations, federal and state elected members of government, and other reputable sources asking for family member contact information, you may also be asked whether you consent to have certain information provided to interested elected officials or to third-party benefactors who may wish to extend their condolences or provide support such as gifts, monetary assistance or scholarships. This decision is entirely up to you; U. S. privacy laws bar the government from releasing your private information to third parties without your written consent. Additionally, while there may be many offers to families of deceased service members, each organization has its own criteria, and receipt of such gifts or offers is not automatic. If you have specific questions about any unsolicited contact from an organization, ask your casualty assistance officer for assistance and further information.