Military Death Benefits for Active Duty Soldiers: A Guide

Updated

Though all military veterans who receive an honorable discharge receive military death benefits, special benefits are paid to families of active-duty soldiers who die while actively serving their country. These benefits can be used to help pay for funeral and burial expenses, along with other end-of-life expenses and needs.

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Understanding the benefits paid to the immediate family of a deceased active-duty soldier is thankfully straightforward. If you’re working through this process in light of a loved one’s death, please accept our sincerest condolences and gratitude for their life of service and sacrifice.

Does the Military Pay for Funerals or Burials for Active Duty Soldiers?

If you’re navigating the death of a veteran, then you’ll apply for applicable VA death benefits. However, when a soldier dies on active duty, benefits are handled a little differently. First, there are several more benefits you are eligible for as a spouse or dependent child. Second, the application process is slightly different. 

When it comes to paying for funerals and burials, you’ll discover that you can apply for a death benefit that the government pays out to family members of active-duty soldiers. Though the government or military doesn’t pay directly for a funeral or burial, the monetary compensation paid out to family members is often more than enough to cover the funeral, cremation, or burial service.

In addition to monetary compensation, the government will provide the following to the family of a deceased soldier:

  • A plot in a national cemetery
  • The opening and closing of the gravesite
  • Perpetual care
  • VA headstone, niche marker, or grave medallion
  • Burial flag
  • Presidential Memorial Certificate

Does the Deceased Soldier’s Family, Spouse, or Children Get Benefits?

There are several benefits made available to the deceased soldier’s family, spouse, and children, depending on marital status, age, and income levels. Some benefits are paid regardless of income, while others are paid out in accordance with the family member’s income levels.

Though each benefit has specific application requirements, you’ll quickly determine which you are eligible for as you read through the descriptions of each benefit type in the next section.

Full List of Benefits for Deceased Active Duty Soldiers

There are several benefits provided to the immediate family of a deceased active-duty soldier. These are the benefits that your assigned Casualty Assistance Representative will help guide you through during the application process.

If you’re in the throes of figuring out what to do when a veteran dies, we hope this section will make things a little easier for you. 

Active Duty Death Gratuity

A death gratuity is a single lump-sum payment provided to immediate family members of a service member who dies on Active Duty, Active Duty for Training, or Initial Duty Training. These funds are intended to assist family members with immediate expenses such as funeral services, house payments, and other immediate needs that would normally be covered by the service member’s pay.

There are two death gratuity amounts. The amount awarded depends on the circumstances surrounding the service member's death. 

Family members will receive a death gratuity amount of $12,420 is the base amount that family members are entitled to. This applies to all service members who died during Active Duty, Active Duty for Training, or Initial Duty Training. 

A one-time payment of $100,000 is paid out to family members when the service member’s death is the result of:

  • The result of hostile actions in a designated combat zone or combat operation
  • During combat training
  • While performing a hazardous duty

Hazardous duty includes parachuting, flight deck duty, demolition duty, experimental stress duty, toxic fuels or propellants duty, toxic pesticides duty, dangerous viruses or bacteria lab duty, chemical munitions duty, Maritime Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure duty, Polar Region Flight Operations duty, and serving on the Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team.

The death gratuity is paid out to surviving family members in the following order:

  • Payment is delivered to the surviving spouse within 24 hours of the service member’s death unless other arrangements have been made.
  • If there is no surviving spouse, payment is provided to the service member’s children or child in equal shares.
  • If the service member has no spouse or children, payment will be made to parents and/or siblings based on the service member’s prior arrangements.
  • If there are no immediate family members, no payment will be made.

How to apply for death gratuity

In order to apply for the death gratuity benefit, claim form DD Form 397, Claim Certification and Voucher for Death Gratuity Payment, must be filled out and submitted.

Remaining Pay and Allowances

Upon a service member’s death, any remaining pay and allowances that have not been paid out will be designated and paid to the beneficiary named on the service member’s DD Form 93, Record of Emergency Data.

Remaining pay and allowances may include their regular salary that has yet to be issued, payment for a maximum of 60 days accrued leave, travel reimbursements, per diem expense payments, transportation costs, shipment and moving expenses, and reenlistment bonuses.

Payment will be provided to the designated beneficiary as decided by the service member. If no beneficiary has been designated, payment will be made to the following in this order:

  • The service member’s surviving spouse
  • If no spouse, then the children or child and/or descendants of deceased children
  • If no spouse or children, to the parents or parent
  • If no spouse, children, or parents, to the representative of the service member’s estate
  • If none of the above, to the person designated by the state in which the service member resided

How to apply for a service member’s remaining pay and allowances 

To apply for this benefit, you’ll need to fill out Standard Form 1174, Claim for Unpaid Compensation of the Deceased Member of the Uniformed Services.

Family housing allowance

If a service member’s family is residing in military government housing at the time of the active-duty service member’s death, the family is allowed to remain in the house for a maximum of 365 days at no cost to the family.

Should the service member’s family wish to leave military government housing prior to the initial 180 days, the Basic Allowance for Housing will be reimbursed for the remaining days.

For families not residing in government housing, the Basic Allowance for Housing or the Overseas Housing Allowance will be provided for a maximum of 180 days.

How to apply for family housing allowance

The rates and reimbursement vary depending on your loved one’s pay scale at the time of their death. The Casualty Assistance Representative assigned to you will provide you with the correct totals and paperwork should you wish to apply for this benefit.

Group Life Insurance for Service Members

The Service Members’ Group Life Insurance premiums are automatically deducted from the service member's paycheck while they are actively serving as a member of the military. Upon their death, the benefit is paid in full to the designated beneficiary. 

The maximum payment is $400,000 and is tax-exempt. Funds are provided to the beneficiary as designated by the service member. If the service member did not designate funds to a specific person or entity, then funds are provided in a “by law” sequence as follows:

  • To the service member’s surviving spouse
  • If no spouse, to the children or child in equal shares
    • If there is a deceased child, that child’s shares will be distributed equally to their children.
  • If no spouse or children, to the surviving parents
  • If no spouse, children, or parents, to the executor of the estate
  • If none of the above, to the next of kin

How to apply for the Service Members’ Group Life Insurance benefit

You’ll need to fill out VA Form SGLV 8283, Claim for Death Benefits, and submit it.

Survivor Benefit Plan 

This benefit is available to family members of active service members who would have been eligible for retirement. The Survivor Benefit Plan is an annuity paid monthly to the surviving spouse at 55% of the service member’s retirement pay based on years of service and eligibility. 

The amount might be reduced depending upon the amount received through Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits. The amount is also reduced to 35% of retirement pay when the surviving spouse reaches the age of 62.

If the surviving spouse remarried before age 55, the annuity is suspended. It can be reinstated if the subsequent marriage ends due to divorce or death. If the surviving spouse remarries after turning 55, the annuity will not be suspended and will continue to be paid as regularly scheduled.

How to apply for the Survivor Benefit Plan

You’ll be directed regarding specific application requirements by your assigned Casualty Assistance Representative.

Reserve Component Survivor Benefit Plan

This is similar to the Survivor Benefit Plan but applies to those who were part of a Reserve Component and had completed necessary requirements to be eligible for retirement. The annuity paid to the surviving spouse is 55% of what the service member would have received for retirement pay.

How to apply for the Survivor Benefit Plan

As with the Survivor Benefit Plan, the Casualty Assistance Representative assigned to you will help you walk through this application process. 

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation

The Dependency and Indemnity Compensation is a monthly benefit paid to the surviving spouse, children under 18 who are unmarried, children aged between 18 and 23 when attending a VA-approved school, and parents of service members in a low-income situation.

Numerous factors go into determining the total monetary award received for this benefit, making it necessary to speak with the VA to determine total eligibility and benefits received.

How to apply for the Survivor Benefit Plan

There are several forms that can be filed to begin the process of applying for the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. These include:

  • VA Form 21-534, Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation or Death Pension Accrued Benefits by Surviving Spouse or Child
  • VA Form 21-535, Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation by Parent(s)

Understanding Military Death Benefits

If your loved one died while on active duty, whether in the direct line of service or not, there are numerous benefits available to surviving spouses and families. These benefits are available to help families navigate the immediate weeks and months without their loved one and help them get back on their feet. In all cases, the Casualty Assistance Representative will help you navigate the application process.


Sources:
  1. “Death Gratuity.” Military Compensation, Department of Defense, 2022. Militarypay.defense.gov.
  2. “Making the Final Move.” Gold Star and Surviving Family Members, Military One Source, 14 October 2021. Militaryonesource.mil
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