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Mideast edition, Sunday, August 5, 2007

ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. troops can now designate one person to receive up to 50 percent of their death gratuity of up to $100,000.

Until recently, all of a servicemember’s death gratuity would go to the next of kin as defined by law, or their parents or siblings if the servicemember had no surviving spouse or children, officials said.

In May, Congress allowed troops to designate up to 50 percent of their death gratuity to anyone the servicemember chooses, said Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington.

“However, the remaining 50 percent or more must continue to be paid according to the definitive hierarchy of beneficiaries established in Title 10 United States Code,” Withington wrote in an e-mail.

The change was prompted by one family’s ordeal following a sailor’s death in June 2006, said Lt. Cmdr. Brian Behlke, head of Navy Casualty Operations.

In that incident, the sailor’s next of kin was a daughter who was a minor, Behlke said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes.

“All of the death gratuity was left to her in accordance with law,” he said. “Grandparents (sailor’s parents) who are raising the surviving daughter are not able to get money without going through Bank Trustee Board.”

The change is set to expire Sept. 30, but both the House and Senate have provisions in next fiscal year’s National Defense Authorization Act that would make it permanent, Withington said.

“Each of the services is responsible for establishing necessary procedures and issuing specific guidance to their members regarding this change to designation of Death Gratuity beneficiaries,” he said.

The Navy is giving sailors until Sept. 30 to decide whether they want to take advantage of the new death gratuity policy; otherwise their entire gratuity will go to their primary next of kin, a recent Navywide message says.

The message gave the following hierarchy for how death gratuities are awarded:

n Spouse.

n Children, in equal shares.

n One of the following designated by the service: parents/persons in loco parentis or brothers and sisters.

Soldiers too have the option of taking advantage of the new death gratuity policy, but they do not have a Sept. 30 deadline, said Lt. Col. Mike Worth, chief of special actions for Army Casualty and Mortuary Affairs.

The Army is confident that Congress will make the death gratuity change permanent, Worth said.

The Air Force also expects the death gratuity change to be made permanent and is finalizing an announcement on the matter, said Thomas R. Perry, chief of the Casualty Matters Division.

The Marine Corps too plans to issue guidance on the death gratuity policy, said Bryan Driver, a spokesman for the Personal and Family Readiness Division.

“Marines who wish to make this voluntary election should go to their installation personnel administration center and update their Record of Emergency Data,” Driver wrote in an e-mail.


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