AM 760 KFMB - Talk Radio Station - San Diego, CA - 5 Ways military widows and dependents can use benefits wisely

5 Ways military widows and dependents can use benefits wisely

© US Army / Sgt. 1st Class Michael Guillory © US Army / Sgt. 1st Class Michael Guillory

By Andrew Housser

On Memorial Day, millions of people remember those who have died while serving in the U.S. military. Since 2001, at least 6,906 service members have died while serving the country, primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those troops have left more than 3,500 military widows and widowers. That number does not include dependents, spouses and other family members of service members who died in other conflicts, or unmarried partners of troops. 

When a service member dies, the surviving partner may face difficult financial circumstances in addition to the emotional challenges of grief. Often, military spouses are in the early years of their adult lives. Half of troops who have died in service since 2001 were under age 25.

For those who are grieving a service member this Memorial Day, these steps can help smooth the road to healing.

Use dependent and survivor benefits wisely. After a service member’s death, dependent and survivor benefits provide a lifeline for families. A gratuity payment of $100,000 can repay debt or provide for children’s future education. Monthly Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) helps with monthly expenses. As this support is far less than a partner would earn throughout his or her lifetime, it is important to live on a budget and plan carefully. If you receive significant benefits from the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance plan or other life insurance, consider consulting a financial advisor.

Take advantage of education assistance. About 90 percent of female civilian spouses of active-duty service members report they are underemployed. This means they have more experience or education than their current job requires. Education assistance can help to change that. Survivors’ benefits include financial assistance while you earn a degree or pursue career training. You may have 10-20 years to use these benefits.

Beware of scams. Scammers often target service members and spouses. When you move often, you leave a trail of personal information. When a service member dies while on active duty, his or her name and address may be widely published. This can leave surviving family members more vulnerable. Provide a safety net by asking a trusted friend or relative to help you sort through requests for money, signatures or personal information. Never send money or share personal information, such as a copy of a driver’s license or passport or bank account information, to someone who asks for it online or on the phone.

Get help and advice. Juggling paperwork related to survivors’ benefits can be a full-time job. Contact your Veterans Administration regional office for help. A representative can help you complete forms correctly and get the assistance you have earned. You may need an updated ID card for commissary and other services. Be sure you receive unpaid compensation and sign up for Social Security benefits. You also may be eligible for housing loans, small business loans and other support.

Find support for credit card debt and other bills. If you struggle to pay bills after losing a loved one, a reputable financial services company can help. You might find relief with a personal loan, debt negotiation or other support. The American Fair Credit Council is a good resource to help identify a credible debt relief provider.

At any stage of life, it is never easy to lose a loved one. Taking control of your financial resources, though, can help those who have lost a spouse in military service feel empowered and secure a better future.

Andrew Housser is a co-founder and CEO of Bills.com, a free one-stop online portal where consumers can educate themselves about personal finance issues and compare financial products and services. He also is co-CEO of Freedom Financial Network, LLC providing comprehensive consumer credit advocacy and debt relief services. Housser holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College.
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