July 1, 2005

U.S. boosts death pay for troops killed in action

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. military will immediatelybegin paying a major increase in death benefits to survivors oftroops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and boost life insurancecoverage for those serving in combat zones, the Pentagon saidon Friday.

The move, approved by Congress in May, will hike tax-freecash payments to $100,000 from a previous $12,420 for survivorsof troops who die as a result of hostile action in a designatedcombat operation or zone, or while training for combat orperforming hazardous duty.

The payments, which will be made retroactive to the 2001invasion of Afghanistan, follow complaints from Congress andfrom military families that survivor payouts were far too lowto compensate for loss of income, and pain and suffering.

More than 1,700 U.S. troops have died in the Iraq war, ofwhich about 1,350 were killed in hostile action, and thousandsmore have been wounded. At least 165 U.S. troops died in andaround Afghanistan since 2001, including 16 in a helicoptercrash this week.

The emergency supplemental act passed by lawmakers alsoincreases the maximum amount of Servicemembers Group LifeInsurance to $400,000 from $250,000 for all troops.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has designated all troopsdeployed outside the United States in support of OperationEnduring Freedom in Afghanistan or Operation Iraqi Freedom asparticipating in qualifying combat operations.

"Effective immediately, survivors of service members whodie in these qualifying zones or operations will receive theincreased benefits," the Pentagon said.

"The services will also identify eligible survivors ofservice members who died in these designated zones andoperations since October 7, 2001, and begin making theretroactive payments within a few days," it added.

The process of identifying all eligible beneficiaries andcompleting the retroactive payments could take several months.

Survivors of members who did not die in a designated combatoperation or combat zone, but were training for combat orperforming hazardous duty, will also qualify for increasedbenefits, it said.