Pentagon, Senate Seek Doubling Of G.I. Survivors' Benefit
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 1, 2005 Pentagon leaders and Capitol Hill legislators want to increase the current available combined government death benefit for families of fallen servicemembers by about $250,000.
If enacted, the proposed change essentially would double the $262,000 now available to families of servicemembers killed in wartime operations, David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said today during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. The issue has been under study for two years.
Senior defense leaders "believe that sum ought to be nearer to $500,000," Chu told the panel, by increasing the maximum coverage offered by the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance program and raising the separate death gratuity payment.
The current survivor's death gratuity payment, which is tax-free, is about $12,420. Survivors of servicemembers killed in war operations also can now receive $250,000 in maximum SGLI coverage, if they'd elected to do so.
DoD and Senate proposals would increase the death gratuity payment to $100,000, and boost maximum SGLI coverage to $400,000. The Pentagon would pay the premiums for the extra $150,000 in SGLI coverage when participating servicemembers are deployed in a combat zone.
A plan under discussion, if approved by Congress and the president, would be retroactive to Oct. 7, 2001, the day Operation Enduring Freedom began in Afghanistan.
The U.S. government "already provides a significant set of programs to help the families of those who give their lives in service to the country," Chu said. Current compensation programs now available to surviving spouses with children, he added, approximately provide "dollar-for-dollar, what the military member was earning on active service."
DoD also provides transitional housing assistance for surviving spouses and children, Chu said, as well as access to the Tricare health system and commissary and exchange systems, and surviving spouse and children's education benefits.
The proposed increase in survivor's monetary benefits would also provide "greater recognition" of the sacrifices America's service members have made during the global war on terrorism, noted Sen. John Warner of Virginia, chairman of the SASC. DoD officials reported Feb. 1 that 1,415 Americans have died in Iraq and 156 others died in Afghanistan and other wartime theaters during the global war on terror.
During the hearing, some Senate members noted that survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were paid an average of $2 million per family. The proposed changes to G.I. death benefits for survivors wouldn't apply to families of servicemembers killed during those terrorist attacks.
"There is nothing in the financial sense," Chu pointed out, "that we can do to replace a lost servicemember." Yet, the government can provide "the appropriate financial tools," he noted, to comfort surviving spouses and families so they can go forward.