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Overview of Casualty Assistance

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. Although the term “casualty” is usually associated with death, casualty support to eligible family members also means support after injury and illness, and when a service member is missing.

Military Heroes Honored

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

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 (explaining 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.

The program assigns a casualty assistance officer to advise and assist the primary next of kin, as well as other assistance officers to secondary next of kin.


When a casualty is seriously ill or injured, the next of kin will be notified as quickly as possible with the expressed desires of the member. If a member dies, is duty status — whereabouts unknown, excused absence — whereabouts unknown or missing, a notification team of at least two uniformed service members (one may be a chaplain) makes an in-person notification to the surviving family members listed on the service member’s Record of Emergency Data form.

Who’s eligible to receive casualty 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. The following order of precedence is used to identify the primary next of kin:

  • Spouse
  • Natural, adopted, step and illegitimate children
  • Parents
  • Persons standing in loco parentis
  • Persons granted legal custody of the individual by a court decree
  • Brothers or sisters, to include adopted or half-brothers or -sisters
  • Grandparents
  • Other relatives in order of relationship to the individual according to civil laws

If no other persons are available, the secretary of the military service may be deemed to act on behalf of the individual.

Medical Examiner System

When a loved one dies or is killed in a combat zone, it’s important for you and your family members to understand how the cause of death is determined. When the unthinkable happens, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System is there to provide you with the following:

The Armed Forces Medical Examiner System performs medicolegal examinations on American service members and civilians who are killed or die in a combat zone. The AFMES, through medicolegal examinations, determines the cause and manner of death, and scientifically confirms the identification of loved ones.

Record of Emergency Data

At different times in your loved one’s military career, he or she has been given the opportunity to make choices in the event he or she becomes 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 Department of Defense is required to follow applicable laws and the instructions of your loved one.

Because of federal law, the service member can elect anyone, including non-family members, to receive these benefits. Your casualty assistance officer will explain these to you if you are the beneficiary of the death gratuity, unpaid pay and allowances, or if you have been designated as the person authorized to direct disposition of remains or person entitled to receive effects. However, your casualty assistance officer cannot disclose information about other beneficiaries.

Privacy Act and authorization for disclosure of information

The Department of Defense and other government agencies require detailed information to fully assist in the settlement of your loved one’s personal affairs, as well as initiating 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 help you to settle your loved one’s personal affairs and financial accounts or get your benefits and entitlements started. Federal privacy laws bar the government from releasing your private information to third parties.

If you have specific questions about any unsolicited contact from an organization, ask your casualty assistance officer for help.

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