Military Benefits: Death Gratuity

The death gratuity program provides for a special tax free payment of $100,000 to eligible survivors of members of the Armed Forces, who die while on active duty or while serving in certain reserve statuses. The death gratuity is the same regardless of the cause of death.

The longstanding purpose of the death gratuity has been to provide immediate cash payment to assist survivors of deceased members of the Armed forces to meet their financial needs during the period immediately following a member’s death and before other survivor benefits, if any, become available.

The death gratuity is payable for death of members in a reserve status while performing authorized travel to or from active duty, while on inactive-duty training, or while performing authorized travel directly to or from active duty for training or inactive duty training, as well as, members of reserve officers’ training programs who die while performing annual training duty under orders for a period of more than 13 days or while performing authorized travel to or from that duty, to applicants for membership in reserve officers’ training corps who die while attending travelling to or from field training or a practice cruise and to persons travelling to from or while at a place of acceptance for entry upon active duty.

The death gratuity is also payable if an eligible member or former member dies within 120 days of release or discharge from active duty, or active duty for training when the Secretary of Veterans Affairs determines that the death resulted from injury or disease incurred or aggravated during such duty.

Eligible Survivor

Prior to May 25, 2007, the death gratuity was payable according to a specific hierarchy prescribed in law with limited opportunity for the member to designate a beneficiary.

Since July 1, 2008, a member may designate any person or persons to receive up to 100% of the death gratuity (in 10% increments) with any remaining undesignated amount payable according to a new prescribed hierarchy. The new beneficiary hierarchy for the amount of the death gratuity not covered by a designation shall be paid as follows:

  1. If there is none of the above, to other next of kin of the person entitled under the laws of domicile of the person at the time of the person’s death.
  2. To the surviving spouse of the person, if any.
  3. If there is no surviving spouse, to any surviving children (as prescribed in the note for item 2 of the pre-2008 hierarchy, above) of the person and the descendants of any deceased children by representation.
  4. If there is none of the above, to the surviving parents of the person or the survivor of them.
  5. If there is none of the above, to the duly appointed executor or administrator of the estate of the person.

Notes:

Item (1), Surviving Spouse. If a person has a spouse, but designates a person other than the spouse to receive all or or a portion of the amount payable, the Secretary of the Military Department shall provide notice of the designation to the spouse.

Item (3), Treatment of Parents. Parents include fathers and mothers through adoption. However, only one father and one mother may be recognized in any case, and preference shall be given to those who exercised a parental relationship on the date, or most nearly before the date, on which the decedent entered military service.

If a person entitled to all or a portion of a death gratuity dies before the person recieves the death gratuity, it shall be paid to the living survivor next in the order prescribed.

Designation of Eligible Survivors

Members may designate eligible survivors, at any time, by updating their DD Form 93, Record of Emergency Data.

Dual Military Couples: What Benefits Are There?

When one military member marries another, the couple becomes a “dual military” couple, also known as mil-to-mil marriages. Different branches of service may use other terms.

Dual military couples are common, and the number of same-service couples may be larger than those who marry someone from a different branch of service. Army spouses, Air Force husbands and wives, Navy couples, Marine Corps families, and Coast Guard couples know there are more pay and higher allowances offered to married couples.

Here are some ways dual-military couples can benefit:

Double Retirement Pay For Dual Military Couples

This does NOT refer to a special program offering to double military retirement pay for mil-to-mil couples; at the time of this writing, such a program does not exist.

However, assuming both military members choose to remain in uniform until retirement-eligible, it’s easy to see that when both spouses draw military retirement pay, that effectively doubles the amount assuming the time-in-service, time-in-grade, and other variables match up.

Mil-to-mil couples who do not retire at the same rank and time-in-service (among other variables) may not draw the exact same amount of retirement pay.

Child Care Issues For Mil-To-Mil Couples

The military does not have a specific policy that offers childcare benefits to married couples.

All families are required by their branch of service to provide documentation outlining a childcare plan for contingencies such as deployments, TDY, etc.

One of the biggest advantages of being a military parent is the ability to use on-base childcare options such as Child Development Centers, Family Child Care offered in regulated private on-base homes, etc.

Childcare expenses are huge challenges for families, and CDC costs are based on rank among other factors. Lower-ranking (and lower-paid) enlisted service members won’t carry the same financial burden their more experienced and higher-ranking co-workers will.

In this area, the dual military couple has a distinct advantage. DoD school centers may prioritize dual-military family enrollment. There may be other resources DoD might offer as well. Check with your Family Readiness Group or Work Life Program for information to support you and your children’s transition.

When You Cannot Be Assigned Together As A Mil-To-Mil Couple

Plenty of military blogs discuss the benefits of the Join Spouse assignment option, but not everyone gets to take advantage. The mission comes first and the needs of the military may not include letting a mil-to-mil couple be reassigned to the same base.

In such cases, there is a Family Separation Allowance you may qualify for as a married service member (even if you are not a dual military couple). However, there are specific rules for claiming this allowance as a dual military couple:

  • You must be sent away from your family for more than 30 days due to receiving military orders.
  • The couple must be living together as a couple before the duty begins.
  • Only one person in the dual military couple can receive the allowance.
  • A dual military family that receives orders for each spouse is paid only once, to the highest-ranking service member of the couple.

Better Housing For Married Troops

The housing situation for Airmen, Sailors, Soldiers, and Marines can be much improved over life in the barracks; married couples are not subject to the same kinds of living quarters inspections and communal living considerations that single service members have to deal with.

And the higher your rank, the better options you may have open to you depending on location and other factors.

Consider a typical military assignment to a new base where there is plenty of on-and off-post housing to choose from. An enlisted service member in the ranks of E1 through E3 (and in some cases E4s with less than four years of service or some similar standard) is not permitted to live in the local community. These troops are usually required to live in the barracks.

Married couples in the same rank/time-in-service situations are not subject to these requirements unless they are sent to an unaccompanied assignment where the family will not live.

Married troops (dual military or not) have choices that include privatized, on-base housing, as well as housing in the local community. Dual military couples don’t get any additional consideration in this area, but as it stands the housing situation is greatly improved for the married couple.

It should be pointed out here that the “better housing for couples” is not an intentional effort or policy by Defense Department leaders to offer married service members a better lifestyle, but in many areas, married couples do reap the benefit of their situation and the military’s willingness to provide higher allowances, better housing, etc.

A “Hidden” Mil-To-Mil Couples Benefit

Assuming both halves of a dual-military spouse situation have put in the required time-in-service requirements to qualify to apply for a VA home loan, a dual military couple has some unique alternatives that a single service member does not have quite the same access to. What does this mean?

VA loans require you to have full VA loan entitlement for the loan. Generally, if you have never used your VA loan benefits before, you have 100% of your entitlement remaining once you have your VA Certificate of Eligibility.

Dual military couples have a choice to make when it comes time to apply for a VA mortgage. They can both use their entitlement for the loan, and the borrower’s financial commitment to the loan is matched by the amount of entitlement. If two members apply and both use their VA loan entitlement, they are both charged half of that entitlement.

But a dual military couple has the option to use only one person’s VA loan entitlement, which means the other spouse has the ability to apply for another VA mortgage later on (assuming the borrower is financially qualified to do so).

The option of two VA home loans is a definite advantage.

Join-Spouse Or Joint Spouse Assignments

Military members often get reassigned to a new military base, installation, or even a deployment without the option to bring families along (i.e., military duty in parts of South Korea are “no dependents” tours, and all deployment situations are strictly “no dependents”.)

When a dual military couple faces the next round of PCS orders, they have the option to apply for a Join Spouse or Joint Spouse (the preferred term of the Air Force) assignment so that both can be given PCS orders to the new gaining base.

This is not always possible, and some reassignments involving mil-to-mil couples have them assigned to different bases roughly within a 100-mile radius or less. There are instances of mil-to-mil couples who have been deployed to war zones together or those who wind up in the same country at the same time but have to commute to be together.

Military couples must keep in mind that they are subject to the needs and whims of the military assignment system and it is best to have a detailed conversation with your detailer, Senior Chief, Chief of Personnel, or any other position that may have a direct effect on where you are assigned next as a couple or as an individual.

Ask the advice of your current assignments person to learn how to apply for joint assignments, but also talk to your unit orderly room to discuss how to claim the higher rates or added allowances if you are soon to be married, or recently married and in need of an update to your military records.

Food Allowances: Basic Allowance For Subsistence

Depending on where you are assigned, the cost of living in the area, and other factors, you and your dual military spouse may qualify to draw an allowance known as BAS, the Basic Allowance for Subsistence. BAS is intended to aid meal costs for service members. Both halves of the mil-to-mil couple can draw this allowance, effectively doubling it.

BAH Benefits For Married Troops

Consider the “with dependents rate” for BAH (the military housing allowance–a higher amount of housing money paid to the service member with one or more dependents. For this purpose, a spouse is considered a “dependent”, technically speaking). The single service member does not get this elevated rate, only married couples (dual military or not).

When a mil-to-mil couple draws BAH, a table is required to determine the couple’s BAH rates (per individual). Federal regulations governing BAH are found in the government publication Joint Travel Regulations, Chapters 8 through 10, which includes guidance on how BAH is paid to dual-military couples.

In mil-to-mil couples without dependent children, both spouses are paid without the dependents rate. If the couple has children, one spouse receives the with-dependent BAH rate, the other gets the single-rate BAH.

Other Factors You Should Know

The benefits of being a dual military couple can include being assigned together, drawing higher allowances (the “with-dependents” rate), getting better housing options, and better retirement pay numbers (assuming both spouses retire from military service).

But being a dual military couple has downsides, too–it’s important to anticipate these as much as it is to know your benefits and making sure you take everything you are entitled to.

Some military-related blogs have encouraged dual-military couples to do things like apply for reassignment to the highest-cost-of-living areas possible to maximize BAH payments and other benefits.

Military Family: How to Deal With Deployment

Preparing for military family deployment can seem like an uphill battle.

For one, your Family Readiness team (be it an officer, group or other) has probably handed you a to-do list that is several pages long.

Add in the fact that there’s the inevitable family you’re going to have to find time to see , preparations made around the house and normal family life to lead.

Forget normal life. Deployment changes everything. And it’ll start happening well before that deployment even starts. The Military Powers That Be divide deployment into three phases: pre-deployment, deployment and re-integration. This is called the Deployment Cycle and, while stress and exhaustion may be true for the cycle in full, you’ll find particular stressors in play for each cycle.

Pre-Deployment Logistics

During this phase, you’ll be doing everything you can to get your family ready for the realities of deployment and the potentialities. Here’s a checklist that will help. At the top of your list will be legal, financial and emotional preparation.

Legally, you’ll want to get everything that may be necessary taken care of: powers of attorney and wills, particularly, and anything else your unit recommends.

While wills can feel morbid, powers of attorney might not seem necessary — and both may entail discussion that you or your spouse may not be eager to have. Talk to your service member about what kinds of powers of attorney you should have while he is gone. Should anything go wrong, including you losing your military ID or needing to break a lease, you won’t be able to take care of the issue without one.

You will need to make financial preparations too. Between hazard pay, combat pay, flight pay, or any of the other additional pays that come with deployment, plus the non-taxable income, your bank account will look drastically different for a while — and it’s important you don’t blow it all on a fancy new Mustang.

Prepare the Family

Helping your family get ready for a deployment is easier when you take the advice of other spouses who have done it.

Children going through a deployment experience many of the same emotions as their grown counterparts, but have at their fingertips fewer of the resources to combat those problems. Learn how you can help them prepare for the separation as easily as possible and, while you’re at it, learn how you can expect the rest of your family to take deployment too.

Prepare Yourself

This one could also be called “steel yourself,” because two things are universal about deployments: (1) No deployment experience is the same; but (2) It’s going to require a lot from you, no matter what.

Combat deployments come with an unshakable shadow and stress every infantry spouse can explain with a single look. But non-combat deployments can also be very stressful. The gist: Stress, no matter what.

Before your partner deploys, make sure you find several healthy stress-relievers to help get you through. They will likely be your go-to when times get rough.

Deployment

To state the obvious: Deployment changes everything. The problem is you really don’t understand how until you’re in it, and even after you’ve done one, you can’t count on the next deployment being the same.

Learn how you can prepare for the impact it will have on your marriage and your family and prepare for the effect an unexpected extension might have.

Take the time to prepare some family rituals in advance that you can do during deployment.

Get involved with your Family Readiness Group.

You may even want to consider moving home while your spouse is gone. If that’s something you’re thinking about, make sure you weigh all the options in advance.

If you’re new to the military, you’re probably shaking your head in confusion. Who’s Uncle Murphy? If you’re not new, you already know: Murphy’s Law goes into effect the minute your spouse leaves. The car will break. The newly replaced air conditioner will suddenly need to be completely replaced again. The roof will collapse. And you will lose your keys.

Maybe none of those things will happen to you (we hope), but Murphy’s Law is there all the same — and it’s something you at least get to laugh about. The good news is this: Deployment may be a heavier time in your life, but it will definitely add in some hilarity. We promise.

In fact, even though none of us likes deployment, we all cherish the feeling of how wonderful it is to have your spouse return after such a long time away. Take the hard moments in stride. And celebrate the return with all you’ve got.

Reintegration

Your spouse is back! Hooray! The world is wonderful, your family is whole, and you are breathing for the first time in months. Congratulations! Now, welcome to (another) hard part.

Reintegration is great, but it brings with it its own challenges.

When you’ve been apart for months at a time, both of you inevitably grow and change — and reintegration is all about growing back to each other. While it happens, you can expect some ups and down. Somefights, some passion, and the road back to shared household duties.

No matter how much we wish it did, reintegration doesn’t happen immediately. But the more you prepare for it and the rest of deployment, the easier it will all be.

9 Great Freebies for Military and Their Families

Military discounts are available just about everywhere you look, from travel to clothing and apparel to arts and recreation. Most of those discounts include a certain percentage off a purchase, but some military discounts include products or services you can get for free.

The following are 9 freebies available for service members and their families:

1. Holiday Freebies

Many businesses honor service members on specific holidays, particularly Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Veterans Day. Make sure you come back when those holidays roll around to see what freebies are available.

2. Blue Star Theatres

Blue Star Theatres is a collaboration between Theatre Communications Group and Blue Star Families. Through this initiative, more than 150 theatres and playhouses around the country offer free or discounted admission to the military, their families and veterans.

3. Build a Sign

Homecomings are a big part of military life. And one of the best ways to welcome a service member home is with a sign. Buildasign.com offers free, 100% customizable banners for families celebrating the homecoming of a deployed loved one. Since 2008, BuildASign.com has given away more than 337,000 Welcome Home banners and signs to military families.

4. National Parks

When you and your family are looking for something to do, consider spending a weekend at a national park. The majority of national parks don’t have an entrance fee, but for those that do, fees are waived on designated free entrance days.

Active-duty military members and their dependents are also eligible for the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Pass for free, a pass that’s normally $80. The pass allows free admission for a year at sites that charge entrance or standard amenity fees.

5. Tutor.com

Do you have a student in your family who needs a little extra help? Get homework and studying help from a professional tutor any time you need it. Students in military families are eligible for free access to the online tutoring program funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance.

6. FICO Scores

An important part of managing your finances is maintaining good credit. SaveAndInvest.org provides active duty service members free access to your FICO credit score through installation military financial educators and counselors in the military Personal Financial Management Program.

7. Museums

Like amusement parks, lots of museums nationwide offer military discounts. And some, like the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York and the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Dallas, offer free admission to service members.

8. Seasonal Freebies

Seasonal discounts range from free tickets to sporting events like professional baseball and football games, free summer camps and free lift tickets at ski resorts. Check back with us frequently to take advantage of freebies throughout the year.

9. Amusement Parks

While there are many amusement parks throughout the country that offer significant discounts to military families, Busch Gardens, Sea World and Sesame Place offer military members one free admission per year.

Military Family Deployment – How to Handle it

Preparing for military family deployment can seem like an uphill battle.

For one, your Family Readiness team (be it an officer, group or other) has probably handed you a to-do list that is several pages long.

Add in the fact that there’s the inevitable family you’re going to have to find time to see (I’m sorry, Aunt Gloria! We just can’t make it out there AND do everything we need to do!), preparations made around the house and normal family life to lead.

Forget normal life. Deployment changes everything. And it’ll start happening well before that deployment even starts. The Military Powers That Be divide deployment into three phases: pre-deployment, deployment and re-integration. This is called the Deployment Cycle and, while stress and exhaustion may be true for the cycle in full, you’ll find particular stressors in play for each cycle.

Prepare Yourself

This one could also be called “steel yourself,” because two things are universal about deployments: (1) No deployment experience is the same; but (2) It’s going to require a lot from you, no matter what.

Combat deployments come with an unshakable shadow and stress every infantry spouse can explain with a single look. But non-combat deployments can also be very stressful. The gist: Stress, no matter what.

Before your partner deploys, make sure you find several healthy stress-relievers to help get you through. They will likely be your go-to when times get rough.

Pre-Deployment Logistics

During this phase, you’ll be doing everything you can to get your family ready for the realities of deployment and the potentialities. At the top of your list will be legal, financial and emotional preparation.

Legally, you’ll want to get everything that may be necessary taken care of: powers of attorney and wills, particularly, and anything else your unit recommends.

While wills can feel morbid, powers of attorney might not seem necessary — and both may entail discussion that you or your spouse may not be eager to have. Talk to your service member about what kinds of powers of attorney you should have while he is gone. Should anything go wrong, including you losing your military ID or needing to break a lease, you won’t be able to take care of the issue without one.

Here is everything you need to know to get the legal stuff ironed out before your partner leaves.

You will need to make financial preparations too. Between hazard pay, combat pay, flight pay, or any of the other additional pays that come with deployment, plus the non-taxable income, your bank account will look drastically different for a while — and it’s important you don’t blow it all on a fancy new Mustang.

Deployment

To state the obvious: Deployment changes everything. The problem is you really don’t understand how until you’re in it, and even after you’ve done one, you can’t count on the next deployment being the same.

Learn how you can prepare for the impact it will have on your marriage and your family and prepare for the effect an unexpected extension might have.

Take the time to prepare some family rituals in advance that you can do during deployment.

Get involved with your Family Readiness Group.

You may even want to consider moving home while your spouse is gone. If that’s something you’re thinking about, make sure you weigh all the options in advance.

And then there’s the perennial military joke — deployment inevitably demands a visit from Uncle Murphy.

If you’re new to the military, you’re probably shaking your head in confusion. Who’s Uncle Murphy? If you’re not new, you already know: Murphy’s Law goes into effect the minute your spouse leaves. The car will break. The newly replaced air conditioner will suddenly need to be completely replaced again. The roof will collapse. And you will lose your keys.

Maybe none of those things will happen to you (we hope), but Murphy’s Law is there all the same — and it’s something you at least get to laugh about. The good news is this: Deployment may be a heavier time in your life, but it will definitely add in some hilarity. We promise.

In fact, even though none of us likes deployment, we all cherish the feeling of how wonderful it is to have your spouse return after such a long time away. Take the hard moments in stride. And celebrate the return with all you’ve got.

Prepare the Family

Helping your family get ready for a deployment is easier when you take the advice of other spouses who have done it.

Children going through a deployment experience many of the same emotions as their grown counterparts, but have at their fingertips fewer of the resources to combat those problems. Learn how you can help them prepare for the separation as easily as possible and, while you’re at it, learn how you can expect the rest of your family to take deployment too.

Reintegration

Your spouse is back! Hooray! The world is wonderful, your family is whole, and you are breathing for the first time in months. Congratulations! Now, welcome to (another) hard part.

Reintegration is great, but it brings with it its own challenges.

When you’ve been apart for months at a time, both of you inevitably grow and change — and reintegration is all about growing back to each other. While it happens, you can expect some ups and down. Some fights, some passion, and the road back to shared household duties.

No matter how much we wish it did, reintegration doesn’t happen immediately. But the more you prepare for it and the rest of deployment, the easier it will all be.

Military Spouse and Family Benefits

The military can be a difficult lifestyle for a family, but it does come with some excellent benefits. Some of those are in the form of cash, and some are in the form of discounts. In addition to the bi-monthly paycheck, military service members receive benefits like money for housing, subsidized groceries and healthcare.

Don’t know exactly how to get your military spouse and family benefits or want to know more about what they are? Read on.

First, make sure you can access your benefits.

To receive any military benefits, military family members must be registered in the military’s personnel system, the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS), and receive a military ID card. To do that you need to be the service member’s spouse or child.

Certain other family members can also receive ID cards in some circumstances.

Military Pay

Every military service member receives at least a base pay. Most also receive a variety of allowances, special pays and bonuses depending on things like deployment, paygrade and military job. For most married service members, those allowances include Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS) and Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH).

Guard and Reserve pay work a little differently.

If you’re confused about what your service member is currently getting paid, you can view his or her Leave and Earnings Statement (LES). The LES can look confusing and complicated, but we’ve got a simple tutorial to walk you through it.

Military Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)

Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) is given to every active-duty service member as part of their bi-weekly pay. How much you receive is usually based on where your service member is stationed. Even if you choose to live somewhere other than his duty station while he is home or deployed, you will still receive BAH based on duty station, not your residence.

In some cases, your service member may be stationed somewhere you cannot go — called a “hardship duty assignment.” If that happens, you may be able to receive BAH based on wherever you choose to live instead of where he is stationed.

BAH is meant to cover 97 percent of your housing costs, minus renters insurance. The BAH rates are recalculated every year. If the rates go down where you are living, you will be grandfathered into the older, higher rate. If the rates go up where you are living, you’ll receive the new, higher amount.

Military Shopping Benefits

Known as “non-monetary compensation,” military shopping benefits help military families save money on the things they want or need.

Most bases worldwide are home to a military commissary operated by a government organization called the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA). Commissaries can often help military families save money on grocery items, since stores are required by law to sell items at cost. Check out this commissary 101 for more information on commissary shopping.

Most bases are also home to a department store called an exchange, as well as gas stations, liquor stores and fast food. On Army and Air Force bases, all of those places are run by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES). On Marine Corps bases, they are run by the Marine Corps Exchange (MEX), and on Navy bases, they are run by the Navy Exchange (NEX). All of those companies operate independently of the military but use a percentage of their revenue to fund other military family programs. Most items purchased in the exchanges are tax exempt, making those stores great places to buy big-ticket items like electronics and furniture.

Military Childcare

Most military bases have a variety of full-time or hourly daycare centers. The costs of these are based on a family’s total income, not just the service member’s paygrade. Waiting lists at these centers can be long, so the military also allows families to use subsidized in-home daycares that have been officially approved. If you don’t live near a base or there are no on-base daycare center spots available, the military will also subsidize the cost of care at certain off-base, civilian daycares that have become a part of their network.

Military Recreation Benefits

Military Welfare and Recreation (MWR) is a major part of base life — and a part of your benefits. The programs MWR funds and manages on base are often much more affordable than their off-base counterparts because the government subsidizes their costs.

MWR manages most recreation on every base, including gyms, pools, bowling alleys, horse stables, event centers, golf courses, discounted equipment rentals and more. Many bases also have available youth programs operated through MWR like dance classes, sports teams and clubs. Since most of these services are specific to each base, you should contact your local MWR office to learn what is available.

MWR operates several resorts in vacation destinations around the world. And the individual services’ MWR programs operate recreation areas stateside in places like Virginia Beach, Virginia; Fort Walton Beach, Florida; and Pacific Beach, Washington. The best way to find out what is currently available from that program is to contact your base MWR office.

Military Spouse and Family Healthcare

Active-duty military families — regardless of which branch of service their spouse serves in — receive benefits through the military’s healthcare, which is called Tricare. While Tricare is technically not an insurance company, it often operates a lot like one, helping military families receive healthcare and pay medical bills.

There are two kinds of Tricare that active-duty families, medically retired families and families of activated guardsmen and reservists can use: Tricare Select (previously known as Tricare Standard) and Tricare Prime.

If you are a non-activated guard or reserve family, you can still use Tricare under the programs designed specifically for you.

Military retiree families can also receive Tricare.

Dental insurance is provided to military families through United Concordia.