ARLINGTON, Va. — U.S. troops soon will control distribution of their entire $100,000 death gratuity, instead of just half that amount, with the Pentagon mandating who gets the remaining sum.

The rule change, which is called for in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008, is part of an ongoing effort by lawmakers since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began to overhaul the way families are compensated if a member is killed in action.

As of July 1, servicemembers will be allowed to assign all of their $100,000 posthumous payment to recipients of their preference, whether or not those people are related by blood or marriage.

Servicemembers can choose up to 10 beneficiaries for the gratuity, and divide the $100,000 benefit among those people in 10 percent increments.

For example, a servicemember could allocate $10,000, $20,000, and $70,000 to three different beneficiaries, such as his mother, his best friend and his wife.

Current rules allow members to designate one person to receive up to 50 percent of the gratuity owed survivors if they are killed in action. But the rest of the gratuity is assigned according to a hierarchy established by the Pentagon, beginning with the surviving spouse.

Under the new law, if a military member has a spouse but elects to leave some or the entire gratuity to anyone other than the spouse, the service must notify the spouse that this has happened.

And if a military member chooses to allocate only part of the gratuity or none of it, the law sets up a new, less complex hierarchy of inheritance than the one originally established by the Pentagon: spouse, children, parents, executor or administrator of the person’s estate, and next of kin, in that order.

Led by Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, who introduced three House bills in 2007 to modify the death gratuity allocation rules, lawmakers voted to make the Pentagon change the rules after learning of instances where survivors were suffering financially because they did not have legal access to death benefits.

In a press release on the subject he issued last July, Latham cited the example of Petty Officer 2nd Class Jamie Jaenke, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006.

Jaenke’s 9-year-old daughter, Kayla, was being cared for by Jaenke’s mother and father, and the sailor had provided written instructions that a portion of the death gratuity benefit be given to them.

But this was not a legal option under rules that state a spouse or child can be the only recipient, the release said.

The result, until the matter is resolved, is “countless financial hardships,” the release states.

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