2,003 Soldiers Dead in Afghanistan, And What Happens After

Today’s New York Times has a four-page spread with the names and faces of American servicemen and women who have been killed in the war in Afghanistan.

• Here you can see the faces and read the names of each man and woman killed.
• Here you can see visualizations of where and when the deaths occured.
• Here you can read about the NYT’s methodology for counting the deaths. (Some deaths in countries other than Afghanistan have been included because they were directly related to Operation Enduring Freedom; six “non-hostile” deaths of servicemembers at Guantanamo are included; they do not say whether soldiers who take their own lives or die from related injuries after returning to the States are included, though the accompanying feature article notes, “More active-duty and reserve soldiers killed themselves last year, 278, than died in combat in Afghanistan, 247.”) 

This photograph by Todd Heisler for the NYT prompted me to spend the morning seeking out what happens  financially and logistically after a service member dies in action. This pamphlet from the Department of Defense—”A Survivor’s Guide to Benefits: Taking Care of Our Families”—details the process of applying for benefits, and it’s complicated. There are so many (death gratuity, housing allowance, dependency and indemnity compensation, survivor benefit plan … ), and families have to apply for each benefit separately. It seems overwhelming.

But each branch assigns a Casualty Assistance Officer to each family, and according to this guide, that person’s main responsibility from point of assignment is to ensure the family’s questions are answered and benefits applied for. It seems like a good system. (I suppose I could seek out message boards to back that assumption up or refute it, but my heart isn’t in it this morning.)

One thing that struck me particularly: “The death gratuity is a lump sum payment made by the Department of Defense to the survivors … The amount of death gratuity is $100,000 and is tax exempt … The death gratuity will normally be paid to the eligible beneficiaries within seventy-two hours of notification.”

I can’t see any benefit in waiting to pay this benefit out—despite military help with funeral costs and travel, I’m sure many families find that money useful immediately. But to have a check arrive so soon after that knock on the door …


4 Comments / Post A Comment

gospel_plow (#1,999)

My best friend’s husband is one of those 2,003; he was KIA in July, so she has gone through this process very recently. As far as I can tell, the military has been a great help to her. For instance, there are (in addition to the “death gratuity?” I’ve never heard her mention it) lifelong health insurance benefits, life insurance, etc., which, although they don’t come close to making the loss palatable, do provide some security to those (wives, spouses, parents) left behind. The military doesn’t pay too, too much for the funeral (relative to how much funerals can cost, especially huge funerals, which military funerals tend to be), but they fly the families out for the receiving of the body. The military also pays for one-a few of the fallen soldier’s fellow soldiers to come attend the funeral and be with the family. The casualty assistance officers are randomly assigned officers from the closest military base, and they assist the family in traveling to where the body is flown back to (actually sitting with them on the plane), getting their benefits, etc.. I know my friend’s in-laws have had a great CAO and he has really been there for them. Not sure if my friend’s experience is universal, but I think we’ve all been impressed with how the military has handled it. Not, you know, impressed enough not to think that we should get out of there ASAP.

All this money talk aside, it is still an absolutely horrific experience, and my heart breaks for my friend every day.

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