Each Memorial Day, the United States remembers military servicemembers who lost their lives in service to the nation. It is also important to remember the families whom fallen servicemembers have left behind, and their tremendous sacrifice for the nation. Today’s WatchBlog discusses DOD’s programs for surviving families and how those programs could get even better.
Services for Surviving Families
When a servicemember falls in the line of duty, families receive “casualty assistance” that includes in-person notification, help with applying for benefits and entitlements, and help with other tasks such as making funeral arrangements and obtaining copies of completed investigation reports on the servicemember’s death.
In addition, each military service provides long-term support throughout survivors’ lifetimes:
- Army. The Army’s Survivor Outreach Services has specially trained support coordinators and financial counselors to provide long-term support to survivors of deceased soldiers.
- Navy. The Navy Gold Star Program facilitates counseling and other support services, including organizing events for survivors of deceased sailors. Additionally, the Navy Long Term Assistance Program is available to address questions or issues related to survivor benefits.
- Air Force.The Air Force Families Forever program provides family care experts at Airman and Family Readiness Centers, as well as resources, support, and information for Air Force survivors.
- Marine Corps. The Marine Corps Long-Term Assistance Program provides outreach and assistance to Marine Corps survivors on issues associated with benefits and entitlements. The Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Casualty Section manages this program.
- Coast Guard. According to officials, while the Coast Guard does not have a separate long-term assistance program, casualty assistance personnel are available to address survivors’ issues and concerns for as long as needed.
Gold Star Advocates
In addition, in 2014, Congress required the military services to designate specific employees (military or civilian) to help survivors with any issues they may encounter with casualty assistance and receipt of benefits. Known as Gold Star Advocates, these employees help all surviving families, not just families who lost a servicemember in certain conflicts or military operations.
According to DOD officials, few issues have risen to the level of the Gold Star Advocate Program’s attention because survivor issues are generally resolved by casualty assistance officers who help families navigate their benefits and entitlements. However, we found that some survivors may not be aware of the program, and recommended that the program develop outreach goals and metrics to measure progress in getting the word out. DOD concurred with all of our findings.