The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a variety of programs to assist the survivors of military personnel who die on active duty.
Summary of benefits
Survivors receive certain payments or benefits regardless of whether the in-service death is due to combat, accident or disease, including:
Burial benefits for the deceased service member, which include a gravesite in any VA national cemetery with available space, perpetual care of the grave at no cost to the family, a government headstone or marker, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate.
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation at the monthly rate of $967 for a surviving spouse or more if there are dependent children.
Life insurance, which most military members carry at the highest level, $250,000.
More information about how VA services apply in individual cases is available from veterans services representatives at 800-827-1000.
Casualty Assistance Program
VA has a Casualty Assistance Program to give personal attention to surviving family members after in-service deaths, and to help them with benefit information and applications. A casualty assistance officer is designated at each of VAs 57 regional offices. These VA officers work closely with military casualty officers to ensure timely assistance is available to beneficiaries.
Reservists and National Guard eligibility
When a member of the Reserves or National Guard dies while federally activated or on inactive duty for training, the death is considered service-connected for VA death benefits. Activation of a National Guard unit by a governor alone in support of current security operations does not qualify unit members for these VA benefits, except life insurance.
for spouse and children
When a service member dies while on active duty, the death is considered service-connected unless it was due to willful misconduct. VA pays at least $967 a month in Dependency and Indemnity Compensation to surviving spouses. In most cases, survivors claims are processed within 48 hours.
In some cases, VA can pay more than $967 a month, such as a $241 benefit for each dependent child who is unmarried and younger than 18 or up to age 23 if studying at a VA-approved school. Payments are increased if the surviving spouse is housebound or needs a home aide. The basic rate for survivors is adjusted annually, and payments continue generally until the death or remarriage of the spouse before age 57. Remarriage after age 57 does not affect benefits. Additional information about benefits for family members, to include low-income parents of the veteran, is available at www.vba.va.gov/bln/dependents.
Most service members and reservists take VAs life insurance coverage, Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, though a few decline coverage. Most choose coverage at the highest levels, and their designated beneficiary receives a payment of $250,000. VA has paid every claim related to Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom within 48 hours of receiving the necessary paperwork. VA also offers beneficiaries free, personalized financial planning through a financial services company. More information is available at www.insurance.va.gov.
Burial in a VA national cemetery
Members of the armed forces and veterans, their spouses and dependent children may be buried in any of VAs national cemeteries with available space. There currently are 120 national cemeteries across the nation, and 83 have available grave space. More information is available at www.cem.va.gov.
Burial in a non-VA cemetery
Deaths of active-duty members are not covered by VAs financial burial allowance benefits, since the military services assist survivors with funeral expenses and the cost of burial in private cemeteries. If a family wishes to arrange burial in a non-VA cemetery, VA will provide a headstone or marker for the grave.
Burial in a state veterans cemetery
Although not a benefit provided by VA, burial in a state veterans cemetery is an option available in many states for those who die on active duty. Some states have residency requirements and may impose additional limitations.
Military funeral honors
Upon request, the Department of Defense will provide military funeral honors. This arrangement typically is made by the funeral director. At least two uniformed service members fold and present the flag and play Taps by a recording or a bugler. Additional information about funeral honors is available at www.militaryfuneralhonors.osd.mil.
Military burial flags
In the case of in-service deaths, the Defense Department provides a U.S. flag to drape the casket or to be presented at a memorial service. After the service, the flag is given to the next of kin.
Health care benefits for the survivors of service members killed in action in operations Iraqi Freedom or Enduring Freedom are provided by the military. For more information, see http://www.tricare.osd.mil.
When an active-duty service member dies, VAs Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance Program generally provides up to 45 months of education benefits to the un-remarried surviving spouse for 10 years, or for children age 18 to 26. Currently, the rate is $788 a month for full-time attendance, with lesser amounts for part-time education. This benefit may be used to pursue secondary school programs; associate, bachelor or graduate degrees; technical or vocational training; apprenticeships; and other types of training, including work-study programs. More information is available at www.gibill.va.gov/education/C35pam.htm.
Refund of service members
unused GI Bill Contribution
If the deceased service member had contributed to the Montgomery GI Bill education program, the designated life insurance beneficiary or surviving spouse is entitled to a refund of the money that was collected through payroll deduction but was not awarded in education benefits during the service members lifetime. Most active-duty military members participate in this educational benefit program, which deducts $1,200 from their pay at $100 monthly during their first year of service.
Surviving spouses of military members may be eligible for a VA-guaranteed home loan from a private lender. The loan may be used to purchase, construct or improve a home, to refinance an existing mortgage or for certain other purposes. As with the program for veterans, VA guarantees part of the total loan, permitting the purchaser to obtain a mortgage with a competitive interest rate. Except for manufactured homes and other select cases, the surviving spouse may obtain a no-downpayment loan if the lender agrees.
The service members next of kin receives a Presidential Memorial Certificate. Additional certificates are available for other loved ones upon request to VA. The gold embossed parchment-style paper is inscribed with the service members name and bears the presidents signature. It expresses the nations gratitude for the deceased persons military service.