Survivor Benefits and Programs Available During a Government Shutdown

The newly bereaved:

  • With a government shutdown, there is no mechanism to pay the death gratuity ($100,000) benefit. This benefit is typically used to cover family expenses after a service member dies and funds funeral-related costs not covered by the government. The death gratuity is often viewed as "bridge money" that ensures the family has funds available for expenses immediately after the death and it will take time for ongoing survivor benefits to be put in place.
  • Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI), typically a $400,000 benefit, will be paid to a new beneficiary. This typically takes about a week to get in place following a death.
  • Government-funded travel for surviving family members to attend the dignified transfer ceremony at Dover Air Force Base, unit memorials or funerals will not be paid during a shutdown.
  • Funeral benefits that are typically provided for active-duty deaths by the government will not be paid during a shutdown.
  • The Social Security Administration may not be able to process claims for new benefits so the newly-bereaved would have to wait until after a government shutdown ends potentially, for a new social security claim for benefits to be processed.
  • Families choosing to inter their loved ones at national cemeteries managed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may have to wait longer for burial or internment. The national cemeteries overseen by the VA will conduct funerals at a "modified rate" and the National Cemetery Administration furloughed approximately 1,000 staff members under its contingency plans for a shutdown. Some reports indicate that burials at national cemeteries will slow down after October 15, 2013 because the VA will not have funds available to operate.
  • Arlington National Cemetery will continue to follow its set funeral schedule (which is often planned months in advance) and has indicated it does not expect to be impacted by a government shutdown.

Casualty assistance officers have information on non-government agencies that can provide financial assistance to survivors to cover funeral, travel and other expenses that are not being paid during the government shutdown. For more information contact the Navy Marine Corps Relief Society, Army Emergency Relief, and Air Force Aid.

For survivors whose loved ones died prior to the government shutdown:

  • Installation commissaries in the United States, which were shut down initially during the shutdown, re-opened on October 7, 2013. Check with your local commissary before traveling.
  • Any survivors of fallen troops attending bereavement counseling through the Vet Centers should be able to keep their appointments, as the Vet Centers remain open in a government shutdown.
  • Survivor Benefit Plan annuities will be paid. Military retirees and annuitants are not paid from Continuing Resolution Act (CRA) appropriations, so those payments will continue as scheduled.
  • The financial benefits that military widows, children and other survivors receive on a monthly basis through the VA and depend on to pay their bills, would not be affected if the shutdown is only a few days. All payments for the month of October are already out. VA benefits are protected and should continue during a shutdown. However, the VA recently announced that if the shutdown lasts longer than 2-3 weeks, the VA might not have enough cash on hand to pay survivor benefits in November.
  • TRICARE health care coverage, a benefit that surviving spouses and minor children receive, would remain in effect. Access to appointments at Military Treatment Facilities may be reduced. Appointments may be harder to get and pharmacy, labs and other services may have reduced hours.  Independent of the government shutdown, changes were made to TRICARE Prime Service Areas as of October 1 (the same day the shutdown began) and a few surviving spouses and children with losses more than three years ago, may be impacted by this change. If this impacts you, you should have received a letter several months ago.
  • Any survivors - widows, children or parents - waiting on Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) managed benefits to be awarded (who are not already receiving benefits before the shutdown), could wait longer for benefits and paperwork to be processed because the VA regional offices handling benefits applications will be operating at a reduced capacity during a government shutdown.  If you have not yet filed a benefits claim, it is still recommended that you go ahead and file a claim so you have the earliest possible effective date.
  • Any survivors appealing VA survivor benefits decisions to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) will wait longer for a decision because the board will not operate during a government shutdown.
  • Presidential Memorial Certificates issued by the VA to families of fallen troops will not be issued by the VA during a government shutdown.
  • Survivors seeking to visit their loved ones who are interred at national cemeteries or Arlington National Cemetery, should be able to do so.
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