Online fundraising sites let well-wishers provide financial support for grieving families, both in and out of uniform.

But as more requests on behalf of active-duty military dependents show up on these sites, sometimes offering emotional pleas for survivors who are destitute or “left with nothing,” donors should consider what programs are in place to assist these families, and whether online generosity may overlap with existing benefits.

Most civilians, and even some in the military, “are generally unaware of the robust benefits the government provides,” said Jen Harlow, director of casework support services for the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, “and also what organizations like ours provide.”

Among other things, TAPS offers information about benefits and helps connect survivors with those benefits, government and otherwise. It provides grief counseling, staffs a 24-hour help line, and works with other organizations to help fill gaps, such as supplementing a family’s finances until monthly payments from various government sources begin.

Usually, Harlow said, the person who starts a fundraising campaign for a survivor on a site such as GoFundMe is a friend or family member. TAPS may reach out to let them know about the nonprofit and to make sure they know about benefits available to the survivors.

If you’re considering a donation, you may want to contact the campaign organizer to learn how the money will be used. An example: A campaign seeking money for education costs for children of a fallen service member may have been started by a friend who is unaware of the federal and nonprofit-program offerings that will cover such expenses.

Donors also should consider the costs associated with online giving. Sites have different methods of covering their costs; GoFundMe, for example, takes 2.9 percent plus 30 cents per donation. On a $100 donation, $3.20 goes to the administrator.

Use these factors to inform your giving, but don’t let them dissuade you from acting on your charitable instincts.

“If people want to give, that’s wonderful, and they should support the military family as much as they can, because people sacrifice so much,” said Bonnie Carroll, president and founder of TAPS.


Immediate benefits to survivors of those who die on active duty:

SGLI: Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance will pay up to $400,000 to beneficiaries selected by the service member. Service members who wish to reduce that amount must do so in writing.

Death gratuity: This $100,000 payment also goes to beneficiaries of the service member’s choice. Note: The service member is not obligated to choose those dependent on his income when selecting SGLI or death-gratuity beneficiaries.

CAO: The service member’s primary next of kin is assigned a casualty assistance officer, who will provide information about benefits and help family members apply for those benefits, among other need-dependent duties.

Burial benefits: A grave site at a Veterans Affairs Department cemetery, with a headstone or marker; a burial flag; and transportation to the burial site for immediate family members, or the reimbursement of transportation costs.

Ongoing monthly payments include:

DIC: Dependency and Indemnity Compensation pays a monthly, nontaxable allowance of $1,283.11 to the spouse and another $317.87 per child under 18, along with another $270 per month for two years if there is at least one child. Rates adjust each year for cost-of-living increases. Some surviving parents may receive DIC, with the amount based on their income.

SBP: The Survivor Benefit Plan pays a monthly benefit equal to 55 percent of the service member’s retirement pay had the member been retired at 100 percent disability at time of death. However, the amount of the SBP is offset, dollar for dollar, by the amount of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation the surviving spouse receives.

Social Security: Monthly benefits are paid to the surviving spouse with children, based on the earnings of the service member.

Education benefits:

Fry Scholarship: The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship provides Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits (full tuition and fees, a monthly housing allowance, and a stipend for books and supplies) for public school, in-state students who are dependents of fallen service members. Up to 36 months of benefits are paid at the 100 percent level. A surviving spouse is generally eligible for 15 years after the service member’s death; a child’s eligibility ends on the child’s 33rd birthday.

DEA: Children and spouses also may be eligible for the VA-run Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance program, though there are some limitations.

Other scholarships: Spouses and children may be eligible for a number of scholarship programs funded by charities and other service groups. A good starting point is the Fisher House Foundation’s scholarship search tool.

Other continuing benefits:

  • Tricare health benefits continue at the rates for active-duty dependents for three years; after that, co-pays and cost shares are the same as retirees pay. Spouses and children are eligible for Tricare Dental Program benefits for three years and may be eligible for the Tricare Retiree Dental Program afterward.
  • Commissary and exchange shopping privileges continue.
  • Eligibility for VA-backed home loans continues.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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