The military isn't just made up of uniformed service members. It is a community made up of millions of families — all of whom make sacrifices, right along with the service member. When a service member or veteran dies, the Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs and Social Security Administration step in to support military families with a variety of benefit programs.
Burial and Memorial Services
Service members and veterans are entitled to a free burial service in a national cemetery, as well as a free memorial tablet or headstone. Spouses of veterans are also generally entitled to burial in national cemeteries with their spouses, as are the deceased children of service members and veterans.
Life Insurance and Death Gratuities
Uniformed service members may voluntarily elect to purchase discounted term life insurance through Serviceman's Group Life Insurance. Currently, they can purchase up to $400,000 in death benefits, which go to the beneficiary they select. Upon separation from service, they can elect to transfer that coverage to Veterans Group Life Insurance. Additionally, the U.S. government pays a death gratuity to the spouse or closest relative of the service member if he dies while in the service of the U.S. government, or if the death was service-related and occurred within 120 days of release from service. The death gratuity is $100,000. There are no federal taxes either on the death gratuity or a life insurance death benefit.
Survivor Benefit Plan
The Survivor Benefit Plan helps offset the income and potential pension benefits lost when a service member dies. The benefit is equal to 55 percent of the disability pension a veteran would have received if she had been medically discharged and placed on 100 percent disability. This payment is offset by any benefits received under the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation Program. The Survivor Benefit Program annuity payments are taxable as income, while the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation payments are tax-free.
Spouses and minor dependents of deceased service members are covered by the TRICARE medical insurance plan, which covers all military families for a period of one year following the veteran's death. After that point, the family has the option of continuing TRICARE coverage. If widowed spouses do not remarry, they may pay premiums into TRICARE and maintain coverage until age 65, after which time they are eligible for Medicare.
Survivor Education Benefits
The Department of Veterans Affairs administers the Survivors and Dependents Education Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance for widowed spouses and dependents of deceased service members. The program offers up to 45 months of educational benefits, which can be used at any accredited U.S. educational institution. In addition, privately funded relief organizations such as the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, the Army Emergency Relief Society, Air Force Aid Society and Cost Guard Mutual Assistance also provide scholarships and educational assistance for needy military families, including the family members of deceased veterans.