In addition to such “primary” forms of compensation as Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Death Gratuity and Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance, many other benefits are available to families of a fallen service member. Housing allowances, medical benefits, education assistance and other benefits all help ensure that survivors are well cared for following the loss of their loved one. Fortunately, the vast majority of military families will never have to face this loss, but by knowing about all of the support available to you, you can be better prepared and enjoy greater peace of mind.
Unpaid pay and allowances (Pay Arrears)
Any unpaid pay or allowances due to a deceased service member will be paid to his or her designated beneficiary; service members have the right to name any person as the beneficiary of these funds. In most cases, unpaid pay and allowances include money earned during the month and accrued leave (up to 60 days), but can also include other amounts due, such as travel reimbursement, per diem expenses, shipment of household goods allowances, transportation of eligible family members and unpaid installments of a variable reenlistment bonus. All payments of Pay Arrears are taxable. Your casualty assistance officer can help you complete the required form for claiming unpaid pay and allowances. If the service member has not designated a beneficiary, the Department of Defense will give the money to the first eligible recipient in the following order:
- Service member's lawful spouse
- Service member's children and descendants of deceased children
- Service member's parents, in equal shares, or surviving parent
- Duly appointed legal representative of the service member's estate
- Persons determined to be entitled to those funds under the laws of the state in which the service member lived
Social Security and tax benefits
Social Security benefits are available to deceased service members' families in the form of lump-sum and monthly payments. Tax benefits are also available to survivors. The Social Security Administration will pay a lump-sum death payment of up to $255 to the surviving spouse of a service member. If no spouse survives the service member, the only other individual eligible for the payment is the service member's oldest child.
Contact the SSA promptly after a service member's death so that long-term benefits can begin quickly. Following the lump-sum death payment, the SSA will provide other monthly benefits to surviving family members. Benefit amounts will depend on time in service and the amount of money contributed through payroll deductions. Visit the Social Security website for more information.
Several payments made to surviving dependents of deceased service members are tax exempt. These include Social Security benefits, death gratuities, burial benefits, VA pension and compensation payments, cash gifts willed to survivors by the deceased, and life-insurance policy payouts. Contact your local Internal Revenue Service office to find out information about your current tax status. In addition, spouses of service members who die overseas as a result of a military action do not have to pay federal taxes on income earned by the service member during the year of the occurrence.
Medical and dental benefits
Spouses of military retirees and spouses of service members who have been killed in action are covered by TRICARE. Family members of deceased active duty service members may be eligible to continue receiving health care at medical facilities under TRICARE at the active duty rate for a period of three years, after which they may receive health care at the retiree family member rate. Children can keep TRICARE coverage up to age 21, or 23 if enrolled in a full-time course of study at an approved institution of higher education. For more information on TRICARE benefits and entitlements, please visit the TRICARE website.
Spouses and dependent children of veterans who have been rated by the VA as permanently or totally disabled due to a service-connected disability, survivors of veterans who died from a VA-rated service-connected disability, or survivors of veterans who were rated as permanently and totally disabled due to a service-connected disability are not eligible for care through TRICARE. In these cases, the spouse and dependent children may be eligible to receive care through the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs. More information on CHAMPVA can be found on the CHAMPVA website.
Dependents of deceased service members may be eligible to receive dental benefits through the TRICARE Retiree Dental Plan if the deceased service member's death occurred while on active duty in excess of 30 days, and if the family is no longer eligible for benefits under TRICARE's Family Member Dental Plan.
Other issues and benefits
Other benefits for survivors of a fallen service member include various Morale, Welfare, and Recreation programs (ask your CAO for more information). Unmarried surviving spouses of deceased service members, as well as their unmarried children under age 21 (or 23 if the unmarried child is enrolled in full-time education), may continue shopping at base commissaries and exchanges. Surviving family members receive new ID cards that reflect their current benefits and privileges.
Basic Allowance for Housing
Eligible surviving family members living in government housing at the time of a service member's death may continue living there rent-free for 365 days. Surviving dependents not living in government housing at the time of a service member's death are eligible to receive a tax-free Basic Allowance for Housing or overseas housing allowance for the 365-day period. If a family vacates government housing prior to the 365-day limit, the family will be paid the BAH for the unused days.
Under the Dependents' Educational Assistance program, children (ages 18 to 26) and spouses of deceased service members can receive educational assistance to attend various colleges and universities. Contact your local VA office to find out how to apply for this benefit.
Following the service-related death of an active-duty service member, the VA will refund monies that the service member put into a Montgomery GI Bill account to the beneficiary of the service member's SGLI. The amount paid is equal to the deceased service member's actual military pay reduction less any educational benefits paid.
Several states also provide benefits for survivors of deceased military service members. These benefits may include bonuses, educational assistance, civil-service preference, loans and employment assistance. Your local VA office or local government officials can provide more information on which state benefits you may be entitled to receive.
The VA offers other benefits to certain surviving family members, such as the VA Home Loan Guaranty for Surviving Spouses Program, work-study employment benefits, survivors' and dependents' educational assistance, vet center bereavement counseling, vocational rehabilitation and employment services, beneficiary financial counseling service, and refunds for educational programs. More information on VA-administered programs can be found on the VA website, through the VA's toll-free phone number 800-827-1000, through the Inquiry Routing and Information System, or in person at any regional VA office.