Tag Archives: funeral

Step Up, Step In: What’s a line of duty determination?

By Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane
USAFE-AFAFRICA Public Affairs

During the last five years, the Air Force notified the families of 232 Airmen that their son or daughter died.

Although most anyone can tell you the military can be a dangerous job and being put in harm’s way is often just part of the commitment, the most disturbing part about that statistic is 212 of those Airmen died while off duty.

Even more upsetting is that because of the circumstances surrounding the deaths, some families were paid no benefits. In every case, the deciding factor came down to the line of duty determination.

A line of duty determination investigation is conducted anytime a member acquires a debilitating disease, incurs a significant injury or dies under unusual circumstances, according to Capt. Mikal Nuhn, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa judge advocate. The findings determine whether or not death benefits are paid.

“When a military member is seriously injured or dies, certain statutory rights or benefits accrue to the member or their family,” Nuhn explained. “But only if the disability or death was attributed to military service, and in the line of duty.”

There are four possible outcomes of an LOD determination:
1. Condition existed prior to service and was not aggravated by service.
2. In the line of duty, not due to servicemember’s own misconduct.
3. Not in the line of duty and not due to the servicemember’s own misconduct.
4. Not in the line of duty and due to the sevicemember’s own misconduct.

Nuhn explained how to avoid the fourth outcome in very simple terms.

“Always behave in a reasonably safe manner because your actions could have unintended negative consequences for your loved ones,” he said.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a trip to Switzerland to go bungee jumping or hit the slopes to shred some powder. As long as you take all safety precautions these activities would likely be considered “in the line of duty” and you or your family would receive benefits.

However, a scenario that would likely not provide death benefits to your family is one that involves alcohol. An example is when an Airman drives drunk and puts himself and his family at risk, even if it is not his intention.

Making good choices and taking personal responsibility are key. The wingman concept is a great safety net, but in the end, every individual is responsible for his or her actions and consequences.

“By definition, all mishaps are preventable,” said Master Sgt. James Musgrave, USAFE-AFAFRICA mishap prevention manager.

Accidents happen, but there are always ways to minimize or eliminate risk in everything you do.

“While the younger Airmen have a good portion of the mishaps, no age or rank is immune to mishaps,” Musgrave explained. “It’s more of a psychology issue than an age issue.  ‘It will never happen to me’ is a common jinx if the speaker is not risk conscious.”

As the Air Force Safety Center motto states: “Safety is no accident.”

“Be risk aware, not inattentive,” said Musgrave. “One of the leading factors of mishaps is inattention, which sometimes is a result of boredom or a perceived absence of a threat. If Airmen are aware of the risks, they can control the ones that are controllable.”

Plan ahead: it’s our duty

by Airman 1st Class Alexander W. Riedel, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production

Last year, I dealt with the deaths of two people close to me.

Air Force Week kicks off in New York City

In September, my father passed away unexpectedly at the age of 59, due to an illness. The man I thought to be indestructible suddenly was gone.

Almost exactly two months later, a long-time friend also passed away in the hospital, when complications occurred during a routine surgery. Only a few weeks before, the young athlete had celebrated his 25th birthday.

All I wanted during that time was to retreat and deal with my grief. However, my family was left not just with the emotional pain, but also the dreadful duties of arranging funeral proceedings and disposing of my father’s personal belongings. Needless to say, I didn’t like the tasks at hand.

Although he lived in a clean household, my father’s many financial and legal documents were only haphazardly filed in rows of unmarked binders, threatening to come tumbling off the shelf in an avalanche of paper. His bank information was hidden in a random cabinet, and nothing was labeled or sorted in any distinguishable order or system.

After I returned to my own apartment, I quickly realized my own passing wouldn’t make it much easier for my survivors. While I consider myself to be a tidy person, my apartment is still full of individualized organization that sometimes even makes my wife wonder where I filed the last utility bill.

My friend’s passing especially sent the frightening message that while death at any age is tragic to family and friends, it can happen to anybody, at any time.

I invite you to consider this: If you were to die, how long would it take people to find the things that matter among the unnecessary clutter we often accumulate in life? Are your important documents easily accessible, and does somebody know where to find them?

Luckily, a few simply steps can make a big difference to those left behind.

Why your will will matter

According to the Air Force Legal Assistance website, a last will and testament is a legal document you use to dispose of your property at your death. It may also name people to do important jobs, such as a personal representative or executor of your estate, a trustee if you have established a trust and guardians for minor children.

One of the worst things about my dad’s passing was that he did not leave instructions or wishes. For my family, this meant we had to discuss thoroughly how and where my dad would have liked to have been buried, what to do with his car, furniture and the rest of his possessions.

If my father had had a will, a lot of those questions would’ve been answered for us and the “next steps” would have been expedited.

The most important part about creating a will is simply starting one. Luckily, a will does not take effect until your death and can be discarded and renewed anytime a change in life occurs.

Almost as important as creating and maintaining a will, however, is also making it accessible and safe, keeping it in a fireproof box, for example. As my experience with my father’s bank information showed, documentation does no good unless somebody knows where to find it when it matters.

‘The uninsured life is not worth leaving’

While I was aware that a funeral costs money, the many small expenditures connected to a burial were a surprise to me. From the casket to the headstone, from coffee for funeral attendees to burial plot fees — unexpected expenses quickly rack up.

Life insurance could have alleviated this problem. It is intended to replace the initial loss of income, pay estate taxes, debts and cover funeral costs to the family. Unfortunately, my father did not have a policy, leaving those costs to be covered by his hardly accessible bank account, his remaining paycheck and the rest by his family.

Every active-duty service member, of course, is eligible for the Service Member’s Group Life Insurance, a term life insurance. That means it does not build cash value over time and only provides coverage for the assigned term only. This is an excellent way to protect against premature death on a strictly temporary basis — an example being military duty.

A variety of cash value insurance is available to provide a lasting insurance asset in the form of a cash accumulation account. For military members, it is important to check whether such policies have a “war clause,” preventing their beneficiaries to collect if the service member is killed in war or on duty.

Service members should also make sure that their SGLI is updated regularly to reflect the desired beneficiaries.

Privacy in life, access after death

In addition, there are more private issues to deal with. As I scoured my dad’s house for photos, letters, important documents and memorabilia important to my memory of him, I realized many were digital photos saved on hard drives and his pass-coded computer.

This left many of his photos and favorite music, email accounts and social media, for example, nearly inaccessible and his computer as a vault to the information contained inside.

Consider preparing a list of passwords to your computer and online accounts, so others can access your digital documents even when they don’t share your computer on a regular basis.

Naturally, such a listing should be kept in a safe place, a sealed envelope and safe deposit box; but make sure the bank does not seal or limit access to it after your death.

Talking it over

Finally, more important than legal preparation may be the open conversation with those closest to you. While speaking about your own death may seem callous, it can make it easier for your family to meet your wishes.

Will your family know whether you wanted to be cremated or not, for example? Where you would like to be buried or what you would like your headstone to look like?

I’m not suggesting we live in fear of death every day — but you never know what life has in store for you. After all, not one of us is indestructible.

Instead, I suggest that as Airmen we have a duty not only to our service, but also to our next of kin, our loved ones — those who have already enough to deal with after we’re gone. It’s better to prepare now, before it’s too late.

If you haven’t already, strive to get your things in order and plan ahead for those you love.

For more information on how to establish a will and what Airmen should do to prepare, visit the U.S. Air Force Legal Assistance website, where you can also locate contact information for your local legal office.