Casualty Notification

The word casualty can be a frightening term for families to hear. It is good to know that the term actually has several meanings. A casualty is any person who is lost to the organization by reason of having been declared beleaguered, besieged, captured, dead, diseased, detained, duty status whereabouts unknown, injured, ill, interned, missing, missing in action, or wounded.

Types of injuries our service members are receiving: brain injury, amputation, open-fractures and soft tissue, psychological, auditory, and visual. Theater injuries are caused from: blasts (most common), bullets, falls, mines, rocket and mortar shells, and car accidents. Injuries occurring state-side include: military training, falls, assaults, car and sport accidents.

Each Service is responsible for notification of next of kin (NOK) and has its own specific procedures for ensuring quick and personal notification. In the event of a service member’s injury or illness, only the primary next of kin (PNOK) will be notified by telephone within 24 to 48 hours. For the Very Seriously Injured or Seriously Injured the PNOK will be notified by telephone. If the injury is not that serious, the service member or the hospital may be the one to notify the PNOK. All notified families will have ready access to information as it becomes available.

Basic Definitions You Should Know

When someone is wounded in action or has an illness or disease, they will be categorized in one of the following statuses:

  • Very Seriously Ill or Injured (VSI): the casualty status of a person whose injury/illness is classified by medical authorities to be of such severity that life is imminently endangered.
  • Seriously Ill or Injured (SI): the casualty status of a person whose illness or injury is classified by medical authorities to be of such severity that there is cause for immediate concern, but there is no imminent danger to life.
  • Incapacitating Illness or Injury (III): the casualty status of a person whose illness or injury requires hospitalization, but medical authority does not classify as very seriously ill or injured or seriously ill or injured. However, the illness or injury makes the person physically or mentally unable to communicate with the next of kin.
  • Not Seriously Injured (NSI): the casualty status of a person whose injury or illness may or may not require hospitalization but is not classified by a medical authority as very seriously ill or injured,  seriously ill or injured, or incapacitating illness or injury. The person is able to communicate with the next of kin.

Primary Next of Kin (PNOK)

Because each Service handles the notification of the primary next of kin (PNOK) and secondary next of kin (SNOK) differently, it is important for service members to make families aware of the notification and transition process that will take place should they become wounded. This recommendation applies to single service members as well.

The person most closely related to the service member is considered the PNOK for notification and assistance purposes. This is normally the spouse for married persons and the parents for unmarried service members/individuals. The precedence of next of kin (NOK) with equal relationships to the service member is governed by seniority (age). Equal relationship situations include divorced parents, children, and siblings. Minor children's rights are exercised by their parents or legal guardian.

Delays in Notification of Family Members

The number one reason causing a delay in notification to families that the service member has been wounded or injured is incorrect phone numbers provided on the emergency information data card. It is IMPERATIVE that the service member keeps this information updated. Precious time is wasted when military officials have to track down correct notification numbers for family members. Delays are also common when the family members leave the area without notifying the unit Rear Detachment Commander or Family Readiness Point of Contact. The number one rule of thumb is to let someone in the unit know you are leaving the area and to provide them with a working phone number where you can be reached should they need to contact you.

Condition Updates

The Service will pass information to PNOK as it becomes available. Since the PNOK will be notified of updates, families and friends should use the PNOK as a focal point for sharing information internally. In the first hours after an incident, information may be limited. If there is no solid evidence that a particular service member was involved in the incident, but military officials have overwhelming reason to believe the service member was involved, the PNOK will be given a "believed to be" notification via telephone. This simply tells the family that the military has good reason to believe their loved one was involved and that they will be provided updates as they become available. 

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