TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — When you die in combat, your family receives a death gratuity for your service. The money is given to a spouse, child or descendant, if more immediate family are no longer alive.

It’s meant to assist the families of the deceased, to meet their financial needs immediately after their loved ones’ death, and before other benefits become available.

On Aug. 26, 2021, 13 American service members were killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan. It was only five days before the U.S. was expected to leave the country entirely, part of an effort started by former President Donald Trump and finished by President Joe Biden.

Most of the service members lost on Aug. 26 were young. The average age of the fallen was 20-years-old. Only one was over 30.

Their names were:

  • Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20-years-old
  • Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20-years-old
  • Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20-years-old
  • Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20-years-old
  • Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20-years-old
  • Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22-years-old
  • Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22-years-old
  • Corpsman Maxlon W. Soviak, 22-years-old
  • Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23-years-old.
  • Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss. 23-years-old
  • Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23-years-old
  • Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31-years-old

Now 20 years of American military investment in Afghanistan has ended. Full withdrawal from Afghanistan came on Aug. 30, one day earlier than expected.

Still, the missions’ tolls were high.

Since 2001, thousands of Americans have been killed in operations made to fight not just for liberty, but freedom from fear, from terror.

Even more have been wounded and brought home.

All told, 20,727 members of the U.S. military were wounded during our operations in Afghanistan. A total of 2,475 were killed, according to the official Overseas Contingency Operations report’s casualty summary.

The OCO Casualty Summary is the official record, updated daily, of all service member deaths and injuries going back to World War I.

Data from the DOD shows that From Oct. 7, 2001 to Dec. 28, 2014, the United States lost 2,350 service members in Operation Enduring Freedom, the official name of the Global War on Terrorism, mostly in Afghanistan. More were injured in their service.

On Jan. 1, 2015, the U.S. began Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. It continued the U.S. efforts in the War on Terror until Aug. 30.

Like the previous operation, the mission continued our fight against fear, and like its predecessor, more American lives were lost. One-hundred-twenty-five Americans died during Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. Just like in Enduring Freedom, more were injured.

Officially, the Department of Veterans Affairs assigns a value for each life lost in combat. Everyone killed in combat is eligible to receive a payment for their deaths.

According to the DOD, the payment provided when a service member is killed in action is called a death gratuity.

It’s a special tax-free $100,000 payment given to survivors of members of the Armed Forces who die while on active duty or while serving in certain reserve statuses. No matter what the cause of death is, the death gratuity is the same.

Since 2008, the gratuities are paid out in 10% increments to any surviving spouse, children, or descendants if there is not a surviving spouse or child.

Collectively, the sacrifices of the 13 killed in Kabul amount to $1.3 million in death gratuities paid by the United States Department of Defense.

Families of service members killed in action are called Gold Star Families.

Depending on how long the service member was in the military, how old they were and how many children they may have had, immediate payments can go up to almost $600,000.

O-5 (16 YOS) Married (age 38) with Two ChildrenE-6 (10 YOS) Married (age 29) with Two ChildrenE-4 (3 YOS) Married (age 22) with One Child
Total Immediate Payment$572,256$560,068$552,928
(Source: U.S. Department of Defense)

Over time, Gold Star Families can receive as much as $6.1 million, depending on age, years of service and family size.

O-5 (16 YOS) Married (age 38) with Two ChildrenE-6 (10 YOS) Married (age 29) with Two ChildrenE-4 (3 YOS) Married (age 22) with One Child
Lifetime Sum of Annual Payments$6,138,578$4,930,341$4,975,749
(Source: U.S. Department of Defense)

The average cost of a funeral with a burial in the U.S. is between $7,000 to $12,000. Cremations are less expensive, averaging $6,000 to $7,000 instead, according to Lincoln Heritage, a final expense life insurance company in operation since 1963.

Choice Mutual, another final expense life insurance company says the average funeral cost for burial is $7,360 and $6,260 for a full cremation service. The company says headstones and grave markers can cost vastly different amounts, but prices go between $1,000 to $5,000 from basic marker to upright headstone.

For those lost during their service, the VA pays for:

  • The opening of a grave.
  • A gravesite in a national cemetery and its care.
  • A headstone or marker.
  • A burial flag.
  • A Presidential Memorial Certificate.
  • The closing of the grave.

A DOD spokesperson from the Pentagon explained the benefits after death as an ongoing, annuitized monthly payment made through programs from the DOD Survivor Benefit Plan and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.

The core of the benefits are explained by statements to 8 On Your Side explaining the benefits from the DOD, which read in part:

The Department of Defense ensures that all family members are provided with, and receive all Federal entitlements authorized in law.

These monetary benefits include payments of Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI), the Death Gratuity, one year of Basic Allowance for Housing (or a year of government housing or a combination of both), and burial expenses and burial travel costs. Eligible survivors will also receive an ongoing, annuitized monthly payment through both DoD’s Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) as well as the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) and Social Security from the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Survivors are also entitled to other benefits, such as GI Bill education benefits, continued healthcare, and access to the Commissary, Exchange, and many other monetary and non-monetary benefits.

Statement, in part, from the U.S. Department of Defense

The DOD also said that family members receive the following benefits:

  • Payment of the death gratuity
  • Service members group life insurance
  • All unpaid pay and allowances
  • Travel expenses to the Dignified Transfer, Unit Memorial, and interment
  • Reimbursement for usual and customary costs of the funeral
  • Transportation of personal effects to a location designated by the family member
  • Financial and bereavement counseling; applying for educational benefits for spouses and dependent children
  • Applying for the Survivor’s Benefit Plan and the Dependency Indemnity Compensation (Department of Veterans Affairs benefit), for spouses and dependent children, etc.

The federal government provides a guide to help families navigate benefits after a service member is killed in action.

Additionally, an assistance officer will be assigned to family members living outside of the spouse’s home, and any other designated beneficiaries to help them apply for the benefits.

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