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Relief societies fill in gaps to help families of the fallen

Oct. 8, 2013 - 04:00PM   |  
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Military relief societies have stepped in to make sure that families of the fallen can pay for expenses related to the burial of their service member, as well as other immediate expenses, after the shutdown suspended the Defense Department’s death gratuity payment program.

Casualty assistance officers are being told to recommend that Army families to get in touch with Army Emergency Relief for help, said Guy Shields, a spokesman for that relief agency.

Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society officials have provided 24-hour contact information to “everyone in casualty assistance who could possibly be serving Navy and Marine Corps families,” said Cheri Nylen, casework director for Navy-Marine Corps Relief.

The Air Force Aid Society also is ready to “alleviate any hardship to an Air Force family” due to a delay in the payments, said retired Air Force Lt. Gen John Hopper, chief executive officer.

“We can pay for any number of things, such as rent and emergency travel,” Shields said. “Right now, families are being given grants for these expenses and will not have to pay the money back. The relief society’s policy is to provide grants, not loans, to widows and widowers.”

Nylen said Navy-Marine Corps Relief is determining case by case whether the assistance will be given in the form of a grant or loan. According to Nylen, the funds can be provided quickly in many cases. For example,

the society can pay for a hotel bill or airline ticket in about 30 minutes.

“If someone has a casualty need that hasn’t been addressed, we’re standing by to help,” Nylen said.

None of the societies are providing blanket checks to replace the entire deaty gratuity of $100,000.

Instead, they’re meeting specific needs such as travel for family members to meet the remains at Dover Air Force Base, Del., Hopper said.

A service member’s pay stops at death; the death gratuity originally was designed to bridge the gap before death benefits kick in for expenses and funeral-related costs not covered by the government.

Troops are able to designate anyone they choose to receive the death gratuity.

While normally the relief societies don’t provide assistance to those who aren’t military ID card holders, such as mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of single troops, there are exceptions.

Army Emergency Relief offices have been instructed to send such cases directly to AER headquarters for consideration as an exception, Shields said.

According to Nylen, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society may also be able to help those who don’t have a military ID.

Hopper said Air Force Aid is working with casualty assistance officers on a case-by-case basis.

Payments of Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, or SGLI, are not affected by the shutdown, but they may take longer — about a week — to get to the family. As with the death gratuity, troops can designate anyone as beneficiaries of their life insurance, which is up to $400,000.

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