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Casualty Assistance Program

Benefit overview

The Defense Department’s Casualty Assistance program provides support for military families if their service member is missing or deceased, or suffers a serious illness or injury. This includes making them aware of their benefits and other forms of assistance.

How does this benefit directly help survivors?

Casualty assistance officer

This program assigns designated survivors a casualty assistance officer, who provides compassion and support for families of service members who are:

  • Seriously ill or seriously injured
  • Duty status — whereabouts unknown
  • Excused absence — whereabouts unknown (only applies to DOD civilians)
  • Missing
  • Deceased
Honor Your Military Hero

The Military In Lasting Tribute memorial honors those who died while serving honorably on active duty since 1985. Survivors may submit names for inclusion.

View The Memorial

Long-term case manager

Your casualty assistance officer should do a warm handoff to a long-term case manager, who is available to provide you with assistance in the upcoming years. It is important to stay connected with your long-term case manager, as your benefits change in the future.

Gold Star and Surviving Family Member Representative

If you are not receiving the assistance or the military survivor benefits authorized by law that you feel you are entitled to, contact your Gold Star and Surviving Family Member Representative for assistance.


When a casualty is seriously ill or injured, notification will be made based upon the wishes of the service member. In-person notification by a team of at least two uniformed service members (one may be a chaplain) is made when a service member:

  • Is in a duty status — whereabouts unknown
  • Is in a missing status
  • Dies

Benefits and assistance available following your service member’s death

The Defense Department and other government agencies will ask for detailed information to initiate any survivor benefits that you may be eligible to receive.

You’re not required to provide this information; however, without it your casualty assistance officer may not be able to assist you in getting your benefits and entitlements started.

Federal privacy laws bar the government from releasing your private information to third parties unless you grant permission in writing. If you have specific questions about any unsolicited contact from an organization, ask your casualty assistance officer or long-term care manager for help.

Support includes:

  • Transportation and travel expenses
  • Mortuary and funeral honors assistance
  • Burial expenses
  • Benefits and entitlements (discussing both and assisting with applying for and receiving them)
  • Personal effects, records, reports and investigations
  • Legal matters (tax issues) and relocation assistance (shipping household goods)
  • Benevolent, philanthropic and federal agencies (information, referral and coordination)
  • Support and assistance from a counselor, church member or other emotional and spiritual support
  • Help with public affairs, including dealing with the media

When a casualty requiring notification occurs, the service branch concerned will promptly notify the primary next of kin in a dignified, professional and understanding manner.

In cases in which the individual is declared deceased, duty status — whereabouts unknown, excused absence — whereabouts unknown or missing, the appropriate DOD component will appoint casualty assistance officers to advise and assist the:

  • Primary next of kin: Typically, the surviving spouse, or parents for unmarried service members.
  • Secondary next of kin: Typically, the parents of married service members.
  • Persons, other than those listed above, who are designated or eligible to receive benefits/entitlements.

The DOD mandates that the service member makes choices in the event they become a casualty, with regard to the following:

  • Notification of next of kin
  • Payment of death gratuity
  • Unpaid pay and allowances
  • Disposition of remains

Defense Department Form 93, “Record of Emergency Data,” provides this information. The DOD is required to follow applicable laws and the instructions of your loved one.

Federal law allows service members to designate anyone, including nonfamily members, to receive certain benefits or direct disposition of their remains. Your casualty assistance officer will explain these benefits and choices to you if you are the beneficiary of the death gratuity, unpaid pay and allowances, or if your loved one or the government designate you as the person authorized to direct disposition of remains.

The DOD cannot disclose information about other beneficiaries, due to privacy laws.

The order is (if there is no other next of kin, the secretary of the military service may act on behalf of the deceased service member):

  • Surviving spouse who hasn’t remarried (does not include one who obtained a divorce from the individual)
  • Natural or adopted children in order of seniority (their surviving parent or legal guardian exercises the rights if the children are minors)
  • Parents in order of age (oldest first) unless sole custody was granted by reason of a court decree
  • Blood or adoptive relative granted legal custody of the individual by court decree
  • Brothers or sisters of legal age in order of age (oldest first)
  • Grandparents in order of age (oldest first)
  • Other relatives of legal age (in order of relationship to the individual according to civil laws)
  • Person standing in loco parentis

How to access these benefits

Each service branch has specially trained casualty assistance officers to provide compassionate assistance to casualty survivors.

  • Army Casualty Assistance: 888-ARMYHRC (276-9472)
  • Marine Corps Casualty Assistance: 800-847-1597
  • Navy Casualty Assistance/Family Liaison: 800-368-3202
  • Department of the Air Force Casualty Assistance (Air and Space Force): 800-525-0102, select Option 2, then Option 1
  • Coast Guard Casualty Assistance: 571-266-2375

They are:

  • Army — CAO (Casualty Assistance Officer)
  • Marine Corps — CACO (Casualty Assistance Calls Officer)
  • Navy — CACO (Casualty Assistance Calls Officer)
  • Department of the Air Force (Air and Space Force) — CAR (Casualty Assistance Representative) and Mortuary Officer
  • Coast Guard — CACO (Casualty Assistance Calls Officer)

Medical examiner and other investigations

When a loved one dies, it’s important for you and your family members to understand how the cause of death is determined. Resources include:

The Armed Forces Medical Examiner System will provide you with:

Sometimes the local coroner, and not the AFME, will conduct an autopsy. In either case, you may obtain an autopsy report. But be aware that not all deaths require an autopsy.

These include:

  • Safety investigations. The primary focus here is on determining the cause or causes of an accident to prevent further incidents.
  • In Line of Duty determinations. The results of this investigation may impact survivor benefits or Veterans Administration benefits. A death is presumed to be In Line of Duty unless the death or injury occurred:
    • While the member was absent without authority
    • As a result of the member’s misconduct

Once you receive the reports, you may notice some redacted information. Blocking or removing certain information:

  • Protects the privacy of third parties mentioned in the report
  • Safeguards information that could jeopardize unit operations if made public
  • Maintains the safety of other individuals if made public

View the MilLife Learning course “Surviving Family Members: Investigations Involving the Death of a Loved One” to learn more about the investigations process.

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