A $100,000 one-time lump-sum payment is available to certain survivors of military service members who died while on active duty in the Armed Forces or, in some cases, while serving on reserve forces. The purpose of this tax-free benefit is to help meet the needs of a deceased service member’s family during the time period before veterans survivor benefits become available (if family members are eligible).
Service Members Whose Families Are Eligible for $100,000 Death Benefit
The families of all service members who died on active duty are eligible for the payment.
Payments for the death of a service member on reserve status will be available if the reserve member:
- died when on inactive duty unless the inactive duty was work or training related to an armed forces correspondence course, or the inactive duty involved training at a school under the sponsorship of the Armed Forces.
- was going to do active duty training or inactive duty training (with some exceptions) but died while traveling to or from such training unless the inactive duty was work or training related to an armed forces correspondence course, or the inactive duty involved training at a school under the sponsorship of the Armed Forces.
- was a member of the reserve officers' training corps who died while on annual training duty that was ordered for longer than 13 days, or while traveling to or from that training
- had applied to be a member of a reserve officers' training corps and died while participating in field training or a practice cruise or while traveling to or from the field training or cruise, or
- had been accepted or provisionally accepted for service and was directed to go to a location for final acceptance of service but died either:
- while travelling to or from the place where the acceptance was to take place, or
- while at the place where final acceptance was to occur.
The death gratuity is also available to survivors when a service member dies within four months of release from active duty or active duty for training, if the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) finds that the death was caused by an illness or injury that occurred while on active duty, or was aggravated by such duty.
Survivors Who Are Eligible to Receive the Gratuity
Since 2008, and service members have the authority to decide in advance (by making a "designation") who will receive the $100,000 gratuity in case of their death. The gratuity can be allocated to more than one person, designated in 10% increments up to 100%, according to the service member's wishes.
If a service member hasn’t made a designation, or there is an unassigned percentage remaining to be distributed, the death gratuity will be paid to a surviving spouse, or if there is no surviving spouse, then to children of the service member (even if they are minors, and even if they are married) in equal shares. If children of the service member are deceased, their shares will pass to their children (the deceased service member's grandchildren) in equal shares.
Children who are eligible for the gratuity include:
- biological children
- adopted children
- stepchildren who were part of the service member’s household at time of death
- children of a deceased female service member whether born in or out of wedlock
- children of a deceased male service member if:
- the father acknowledged paternity in a signed writing
- a court made a finding of paternity
- proof of paternity was provided to the VA and found satisfactory, or
- the father was under court order to pay child support on behalf of the child.
If there are no surviving spouses or children, the payment will go to the service member's parents in equal shares. If there are both surviving biological and adoptive parents, the payment will go to the parents who were active parents to the service member on or near the time of entry into service, but in no case shall a payment be made to more than one father or one mother.
If there are no surviving parents (or spouses or children), payment shall be made to the survivors of the veteran's parents.
If there are no surviving family members at all, the payment will be made to the executor of the deceased person's estate, or if there this does not apply, then to any other relative of the deceased service member who is eligible according to the law of the state of the service member at the time of death.
If a person who is entitled to all or some of the gratuity passes away before the payment is made, then that portion of the payment will pass to the next eligible person.
Designation of Eligible Survivors
Active service members can select the survivors who will receive the gratuity by adding this information to their Record of Emergency Data, DD-Form 93.
How to Apply for a Death Gratuity
To apply, fill out DD Form 397, Claim Certification and Voucher for Death Gratuity Payment form. Submit it to the Casualty Assistance Representative who has been assigned to assist you, or the Service Casualty Office if you do not have a Casualty Assistance Representative working with you.
The Department of Defense makes these payments as quickly as possible.