The Department of Defense and other agencies support families of deceased service members by providing them with compassionate services to help them cope with their loss and address all questions and actions related to the casualty. Following are some valuable resources available to survivors.
The Casualty Assistance Program
The Department of Defense’s Casualty Assistance Program makes sure that military families have support in their time of need, including understanding all benefits and other forms of assistance.
- Casualty assistance is available to the primary next of kin — the person most closely related to the service member. Typically, this is the spouse or the parents for unmarried service members.
- This program provides compassionate help for families of service members who are duty status — whereabouts unknown, excused absence — whereabouts unknown, missing, ill, injured or deceased, including:
- Transportation and burial expenses
- Injury, mortuary and funeral honors assistance
- Benefits and entitlements
- Personal effects, records, reports and investigations
- Legal matters and relocation assistance
- Benevolent, philanthropic and federal agencies
- Emotional and spiritual support
- A casualty assistance office is assigned to help the family for an indefinite period of time, until the family determines that assistance is no longer needed.
Eventually your casualty assistance officer, or CAO, will return to his or her primary job full time, but not until matters relating to a survivor’s case have been answered and all entitlements and benefits are being received. However, assistance to you does not stop here.
- Your CAO should connect you with your service’s long-term case management program, which will have expert case managers and counselors available to assist in the years to come.
- You may access support groups, grief counseling, benefit assistance, milestone management, financial counseling to assist with budgeting, investing, estate planning, tax issues and other long-term benefits.
- To find your service’s long-term case management programs, contact:
Service Gold Star and Surviving Family Member Representative
If you are not satisfied with the casualty assistance provided by your service, you may contact the Department of Defense’s Gold Star and Surviving Family Member Representative. They are available to provide support and address issues or concerns from spouses and other dependents of deceased service members regarding casualty assistance or receipt of military survivor benefits authorized by law. Contact your representative through your service branch:
Online survivor benefits report
The online survivor benefits report allows you to view current and estimated future benefits, and set up savings and spending plans so you can forecast your financial future. Some useful features include:
- The “what ifs”: See how different scenarios, such as changes to marital, education and disability status, will impact your current and future benefits. Current and “what if” reports can be saved or printed.
- Homeownership possibilities: Look at your current finances and your financial future and decide if, or when, you should buy a home.
- Education benefits: Whether you’re thinking about your own education or your child’s, the interactive report can help you financially plan for obtaining higher education, certification, technical or vocational school, apprenticeships or other educational programs.
- Retirement options: Your report will show you how much money you should be receiving now and project your future benefits. That can help you decide how much money to set aside now for your retirement years.
- Your wish list: Don’t forget to build in some fun. Maybe you’ve always wanted to take your children to Disneyland or travel to Paris. You can make those dreams a reality with the help of your interactive online survivor benefits report accessed through your service branch.
Beneficiary financial counseling services
Financial counseling services are offered to beneficiaries of Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance, Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Traumatic Injury Protection and Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance.
- This cost-free service is offered by Financial Point on behalf of the VA.
- FinancialPoint provides beneficiaries with valuable personalized financial information and expert consultation to ensure they have the tools necessary to manage their finances effectively. Consultants will not try to sell anything but merely provide financial advice.
- Beneficiaries have two years to request financial counseling services and another two years to use those services.
- FinancialPoint can be reached at 888-243-7351 or via email at FCS@financialpoint.com.
Financial counseling is also available through Military OneSource. Call 800-342-9647 or click here for overseas calling options.
- Military OneSource provides 24/7 service to all active-duty service members, National Guard and reserves and eligible family members, including surviving spouses who don’t remarry. Counselors offer information and make referrals on a wide range of issues including grief and bereavement. Arrange a face-to-face, phone, online or video counseling session by calling 800-342-9647 or click here for overseas calling options.
- Veterans Affairs Bereavement Counseling offers bereavement support to parents, spouses and children of active-duty and National Guard or reserve members who die while on military duty. Call 202-461-6530 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to use this service.
- TRICARE mental health care services are available for you during times of grief. Outpatient psychotherapy is covered for up to two sessions per week in any combination of individual, family, group or collateral sessions.
Helpful guides and directories
The following guides can help you and your family deal with grief and other challenges you may be facing and direct you to other services available to service members and families.
- A Survivor’s Guide to Benefits: Taking Care of Our Families describes the responsibilities of your casualty assistance officer, offers information about memorial services and funerals, lists survivor benefits and contains links to resources. You may download a copy of this for free from Military OneSource.
- The Days Ahead helps surviving family members by providing resources — including listings of support organizations and programs, books and websites on grief and loss, and advice for coping with the loss of their loved one.
- National Resource Directory is an online partnership for wounded, ill and injured service members, veterans, their families and families of the fallen, and those who support them.
Many other organizations offer support by people who understand grief and may have been through a similar experience. A full listing of support and service organizations is available in the publication “The Days Ahead.” Organizations include:
- The American Widow Project provides military widows with support through peer-based support programs designed to educate, empower, inspire and assist them in taking steps forward to their new normal.
- American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. is an organization of mothers whose sons or daughters died in the line of duty or died as a result of injuries while on active duty. It has more than 150 chapters nationwide. Husbands and children of members of American Gold Star Mothers may join as associate members.
- Gold Star Dads of America, Inc., is an organization that helps fathers who suffered the death of a son or daughter in the military, enabling them to honor and remember their loved ones and to support each other in their loss. The organization aims to provide public awareness of America’s gold star family community and to celebrate and honor America’s combat veterans and their families.
- Gold Star Wives of America, Inc. is a congressionally chartered organization that provides information to active-duty and service-connected widows and widowers on pertinent matters such as benefits and legislative and support services. Persons have an opportunity to connect with others in similar situations through volunteer work in community, military and veterans hospitals and through organizational support for important contributions like the Veterans Memorial Projects.
- The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, is a 24/7 tragedy-assistance resource for anyone who has suffered the death of a military loved one, regardless of the relationship to the deceased or the circumstance of the death. The program provides comfort and care through comprehensive services and programs including peer-based emotional support, casework assistance, connections to community-based care and grief and trauma resources.
- TAPS also provides resources for suicide survivors. There is a special suicide loss chat each month, and the organization holds an annual gathering for suicide survivors in the fall.
Bereavement camps and other groups for children
The following groups work to provide grieving children with a comfortable place to talk about their feelings and feel understood:
- Comfort Zone Camp is a nonprofit bereavement camp that brings together children who have lost a parent, sibling or primary caregiver. The free camps, which are held year-round across the country, include confidence-building programs and support groups for ages 7-17.
- The Dougy Center provides a safe place for children, teens, young adults and their families to share their grieving experience through peer support groups, education and training.
- Eluna provides comfort, hope and healing to children of military families and hosts a free weekend-long experience of traditional camp activities combined with grief education and emotional support at Camp Erin.
- Good Grief Camps, through the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, pair young survivors with active duty-military and veteran mentors who understand the military and can help these young survivors through their journey of grief. The camps are offered at different locations throughout the United States.
- The mission of Snowball Express is to create hope and new memories for the children of deceased service members who died while serving our country since 9/11. In December, they bring children together from all over the world for an all-expenses-paid four-day gala filled with fun activities, such as sporting events, dances and amusement parks.