No one is fully prepared to become a surviving family. We send our loved one to war and expect they will return home. Yet, through combat, training accidents or sickness some do not return. This section is designed for surviving military families to provide an overview of resources dedicated to the families of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
When a death occurs on active duty, the next of kin will be assigned a casualty assistance officer to help with arrangements and entitlement paperwork. Casualty assistance officers are there to help family members to make necessary arrangements and decisions immediately as well as months after the service member’s death.
For the most comprehensive information on procedures, services, and benefits available to survivors of active duty deaths go to the Department of Defense Survivor's Guide to Benefits. Benefits for survivors’ differ. Contact your retiree services office for more information. If you are the survivor of a veteran, contact the VA or www.va.gov.
Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)
Surviving spouses of service members who die on active duty are entitled to Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) benefits. SBP payments equal 55% of what the member's retired pay would have been had the member been retired at 100% disability. SBP payments are offset by Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). Spouses can also choose "child only" SBP benefits. This option is helpful when the spouse's DIC payment is greater than the amount of SBP. One must also consider the age of the child(ren) when choosing this option. The "child only" option has been extended retroactively to the survivors of all members who died on active duty since October 7, 2001.
SBP is automatically adjusted annually for cost of living increases and payments are subject to federal income taxes. If the spouse remarries before age 55, SBP payments cease. If that subsequent marriage ends in death, divorce, or annulment, SBP may be reinstated. If the spouse remarries after age 55, SBP payments continue. If that marriage occurs before age 57, the surviving spouse who was also receiving DIC will lose the DIC payments, but the SBP payments will rise to the full SBP amount available.
Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA)
Since October 2008, surviving spouses whose Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) payments have been offset (partially or totally) as a result of receiving DIC, including surviving spouses of members who died while serving on active duty, are eligible for SSIA. Your casualty assistance officer will help you apply or you can contact your Service retiree services office.
Usually paid within a few days of the member's death, the $100,000 death gratuity is intended to assist the survivors in their readjustment and to aid them in meeting immediate expenses. It is payable for all active duty deaths resulting from wounds, injuries, or illnesses that are incurred in the line of duty, not just those occurring in combat-related situations. This payment is not taxable. The death gratuity may be paid out in 10% increments to people designed by the service member, including a full $100,000 or a $10,000 payment to a designated individual. For example, the service member may choose to designate 40% of the death gratuity to a parent and 10% to a sibling. The balance of the payment (50%) would be made to the primary next of kin (PNOK). It also requires a spouse to be officially notified if a service member chooses to designate a person other than the spouse.
The death gratuity is NOT an insurance policy, but should serve as a bridge between the death of a service member and the start of survivor benefits. Benefits, such as the death gratuity, do not replace the need to do proper estate planning and to prepare guardianship agreements for minor children.
Health + Dental
All otherwise eligible spouses and children remain eligible for military health care coverage. Surviving spouses remain eligible for three years from the date of death for TRICARE benefits at active duty dependent rates. This is called transitional survivor status.
After three years in transitional survivor status, the surviving spouse is considered in survivor status and the cost of TRICARE Prime and TRICARE co-pays and cost shares rise to those of retirees. Surviving spouses will be notified approximately 6 months before the end of transitional survivor status so they can be aware of the upcoming change in status and plan accordingly.
Surviving children remain eligible for transitional survivor status and active duty dependent coverage under TRICARE until they reach age 21, or 23 if enrolled in college. Surviving children are also eligible for TRICARE Young Adult. Families may also be eligible to register a disabled family member for the Extended Care Health Option (ECHO). Family members should contact their TRICARE regional contractor to discuss applicable TRICARE options.
Surviving spouses and children enrolled in the TRICARE Dental Program (TDP) at the time of the service member's death will have premium-free coverage for three years from the death. If not previously enrolled, surviving spouses are eligible to enroll for three years following the sponsor’s death. After three years, family members will be notified of their disenrollment and their eligibility for the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program (TRDP). Surviving children may enroll and/or stay enrolled until they lose eligibility for TRICARE (i.e. marriage, age, etc). Surviving families who are assigned overseas at the time of death and who had disenrolled from the TDP because care was available in a military dental facility may reenroll and receive the same benefit. Surviving children under age 4, who are not enrolled in the TDP at the time of the service member's death because they had not reached the minimum age for enrollment, are also eligible for coverage
Note: The spouse's eligibility for military health care and dental care terminates upon remarriage and may not be reinstated unless the marriage is annulled.