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Overview of Casualty Assistance

The Defense Department’s Casualty Assistance program provides support for military families in their time of need. This includes discussing all benefits and other forms of assistance. Casualty support assists the family after a serious illness or injury, or when a service member is missing or deceased.

The Casualty Assistance program

This program assigns a casualty assistance/mortuary officer who provides compassion and support for families of service members who are:

  • Seriously ill
  • Seriously injured
  • Duty status — whereabouts unknown
  • Excused absence — whereabouts unknown
  • Missing
  • Deceased

Honor Your Military Hero

A new Department of Defense online memorial honors service members who died while serving honorably on active duty since 1985, including peacetime deaths. Survivors may submit names for inclusion.

The Casualty Assistance program provides support including:

  • 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

Each military service branch has different titles for their casualty assistance officers. Although the titles may differ, the services provided are the same.

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

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
  • Air Force Casualty Assistance (also for Space Force): 800-525-0102, select Option 1 and Option 1 again
  • Coast Guard Casualty Assistance: 202-795-6647

Notification

When a casualty is seriously ill or injured, casualty 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

Who’s eligible to receive casualty assistance?

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 those 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:

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

The following order of precedence is used to identify the PNOK:

  • Unremarried surviving spouse (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

If there is no other next of kin, the secretary of the military service may act on behalf of the deceased service member.

Medical examiner system

When a loved one dies, it’s important for you and your family members to understand how the cause of death is determined. The Armed Forces Medical Examiner System is there to provide you with:

The AFME is not always the one who conducts autopsies; sometimes it’s the local coroner. In either case, you may obtain an autopsy report. Be aware that not all deaths require an autopsy.

Other investigations

Other investigations include:

  • Safety investigations. Their primary focus 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 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 investigation 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.

Record of Emergency Data

The DOD mandates service member make 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

The Department of Defense 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 non-family 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 you have you loved one or the government designated you as the person authorized to direct disposition of remains. The DOD cannot disclose information about other beneficiaries, due to privacy laws.

Privacy Act and authorization for disclosure of information

The Defense Department and other government agencies require 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.

Long-term case manager

Your casualty assistance officer should do a warm handoff to your long-term case manager who is available to provide you with assistance in the upcoming years. In the Air Force, the CAR also serves as the long-term case manager. It is important to connect with your long-term case manager, as benefits change in the future, and you may need assistance.

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 receive, do not hesitate to contact your Gold Star Surviving Family Member Representative for assistance.

Installation Program Directory

Find programs and services at your local installation.