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).
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.