Budgeting for death

By Tim Grieve

Published February 1, 2005 1:55PM (EST)

There's good news today for U.S. troops serving in Iraq. No, the president won't offer a timetable for bringing the troops home when he delivers his State of the Union address Wednesday. But at least the Pentagon wants to pay more to the families of soldiers who die fighting there.

The Associated Press reports that the Pentagon will soon ask Congress to double the death benefits payable to families of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under the plan, the "death gratuity" family members receive a few days after the death of a solider would increase from $12,420 to $100,000. The Pentagon would also increase the maximum payout for soldiers' life insurance policies from $250,000 to $400,000.

"There is no price that you can put on human life, and no amount of money that can compensate for the loss of a loved one," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told the Washington Post. "But we can make a family's financial circumstances more bearable."

The Pentagon's plan is a dramatic improvement over the paltry death benefits provided to soldiers' families now, but it's not quite as generous as it sounds. The new benefits would be payable only to those soldiers who died in a "war zone" designated by the secretary of defense. If you're killed while serving in Baghdad, your family members will get the increased benefits. If you're killed while training to go to Baghdad, they won't.

The plan is retroactive to October 2001, and the Pentagon says it will cost about $280 million to pay the increased benefits to the families of soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan so far. The future costs of the new death benefits? Nobody knows, at least not yet.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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