The Financial Aftermath of Military Loss

Author: TAPS

Helping Families Build a "New Normal"

After Carole Hilton’s Navy husband died suddenly, the widowed mother of three had to make a number of financial decisions immediately, while she was preparing to bury her husband.  As she details in a recent podcast, she worried she might make a mistake that would hurt her family’s future and jeopardize their financial security.  While the military provided a death gratuity for immediate expenses, there were other benefits decisions to make and a life insurance policy to deal with too.

Carole Hilton

Thankfully, Carole got good financial planning advice and made smart choices, but many families of our fallen service members face financial choices and challenges following the deaths of their loved ones.

No matter your relationship to your loved one, after a military death has occurred, there are often a number of big financial decisions that need to be made immediately. Without the luxury of time to wait until your head clears and the fog has lifted, these decisions usually linger there waiting for you while you are focused on other things, such as preparing for the funeral. On one hand, it might feel cold and unimportant to think about money in the midst of such pain, but on the other hand, you might worry about how your decisions could hurt your family’s future and jeopardize their financial security.  While the military provides a death gratuity for immediate expenses, there are other benefits decisions to make and a life insurance policy to deal with too.

While there is the Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance (SGLI), this money often brings its own heartache. Retrieving that money means accepting that your loved one is gone and never coming home. Yet, ignoring the money may not be the best decision for your family’s situation. Such a decision can come with fears of making mistakes in managing the money left to you. 

As we talk to families in the casework department about the SGLI, we frequently hear expressions of guilt over accessing what some call “blood money.” Reluctance and inner turmoil seem to be a common theme among survivors wondering what to do with these funds. 

For some, the money becomes its own stressor related to the death of the service member. Sometimes, families are approached by others claiming to have known their loved one, and they take advantage of the vulnerable state grief leaves a person in, asking for access to the money. Scam artists are all too common as well, given that information about military benefits is common knowledge. 

Regardless of who died, or who in the family received the benefits and life insurance money, all survivors who have lost a loved one are forced to reconcile the conflicting emotions that can arise from receiving – or not receiving – any amount of money from the government upon the death of a service member, and they must grapple with the financial implications that a sudden death brings.

While typically only one or two adults in a given family are financial beneficiaries of life insurance and government benefits following the death of a service member, the ripple effect of loss is much broader. At least ten people are significantly impacted by each death of a service member.  There are spouses and children, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and a host of blended family members and relatives affected by the loss.

Survivors may need to assist other family members coping with the death, help plan the funeral, and respond to a stream of requests from the media, the public, and the community related to the loss. The loss can be so overwhelming that it eclipses other parts of life, and serious financial issues can quickly erupt. Earning a living and taking responsibility for managing finances can easily take a backseat. Other complicating factors can weigh in as well, such as changes in workplace relationship or ability to perform job tasks, interrupted schooling that creates a piling up of loans, and forced moves that require shifts in mortgage payments and an unstable home life.

The bottom line is: Military deaths go hand in hand with financial challenges. 

So where does one turn when they are struggling to find a 'new normal' while also facing the cost of a broken roof or having to contemplate a house purchase when they barely understand the benefits available? What do you do when you have to figure out the new tax implications and also how to set a budget that will allow for your limited resources to sustain your family over the long term?

This week, TAPS is excited to announce our partnership with Citi on the CredAbility ReConnect program. The goal of the program is to help grieving military families figure out the best financial plan as they start to rebuild their lives and find a 'new normal' in the years following the death of a loved one.  It also offers resources to help returning veterans and families of those who are currently deployed with organization partners, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN).

To address these financial education needs, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) has partnered with Citi in the CredAbility ReConnect program. The program will help grieving military families transition and rebuild their lives in the “new normal” in the years following the death of their loved one.  It also offers resources to help returning veterans and families of those who are currently deployed with organization partners Iraq Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Military Spouse Corporate Career Network.

Military survivors, regardless of relationship to the deceased or circumstances of death, will now have a place to go for advice and information on debt management, loans, budgeting help, foreclosure prevention, home purchasing, and more. The CredAbility ReConnect program offers free online counseling as well as a 24/7 toll-free number that connects military survivors with expert financial counselors.

A website offers courses in financial education that take about 15-20 minutes each. The lessons have topics like “Understanding Military Benefits and “Surviving on a Tight Budget.” They are very straightforward and full of useful information that is helpful for survivors. 

By collaborating with TAPS, IAVA, and MSCCN, CredAbility and Citi, through both Citi Community Development and Citi Salutes, have stepped up to meet the challenge of creating resources to address financial education issues for veterans, their families, and their survivors.  And for that, we salute them. It’s assuring to know that going forward, our military survivors will have these resources to help them rebuild their lives.