The Business of Death is Legally Ruthless

In the last six years alone, over 45,000 veterans and active-duty service members have taken their own lives. This shocking statistic is the unfortunate and devastating reality for so many family members and friends to cope with each day. But in many cases of veteran and soldier suicide, the grief and lingering sadness is compounded by unexpected body transportation fees, ruthless funeral home practices and life insurance snags. Here’s our help in what to expect after a Veteran suicide.

Veteran families of soldier suicide often tells us that, after a suicide, the actual suicide becomes the least of their problems. Money and the business of death become their enemy. To help families and loved ones navigate this difficult time, our team at Once a Soldier has created the following guide to cover basic financial and emotional expectations moving forward.

Financial and Emotional Needs Arise

Transportation

If a family is dealing with the suicide of an active duty service member, the first challenge they will face is that of transportation. Transporting a body from state to state or back to the United States from overseas is expensive and often costs range from a minimum of one thousand and up. We have stories from parents that contradict what we’ve found on airline websites and from funeral directors who’ve handled the details. Like everything associated with veteran suicide, expect the worst and hope for the best.

  • You can’t arrange air transportation for a dead body on your own.
  • Most airlines will transport dead bodies but you’ll have to work with a funeral director or a specialized transport company.
  • The shipper must be designated as a “known shipper” by the TSA.
  • Many funeral homes are approved as known shippers.
  • The fee for forwarding remains to another funeral home usually ranges from $1000.00 to $3000.00.
  • The fee for receiving remains from another funeral home usually ranges from $800.00 to $2500.00.
  • You will likely have to pay both of these fees, in addition to any other funeral home costs, BEFORE THE BODY MOVES FROM THE HOLDING FUNERAL HOME.

Funeral Home Expenses

The average funeral costs at least $15,000 for most families affected by veteran and soldier suicide, the VA doesn’t even offer to contribute 10% of that amount, if they offer anything at all. These minimal contributions are known as ‘VA burial allowances,’ and are essentially cash allowances that are paid to an eligible veteran’s family to help defray burial and funeral costs. The VA will pay a different amount depending on whether the death was considered service-connected or not, or if the veteran was hospitalized by the VA at the time of death. Here’s a breakdown of what the VA will provide depending on the circumstances surrounding the death of a soldier or veteran:

Service-Related Death: The maximum service-connected burial allowance is $2,000. If the veteran is buried in a VA national cemetery, the VA will reimburse some or all of the cost of transporting the remains.

Nonservice-Related Death: The VA will pay a $300 burial allowance and $796 for a plot.

Unfortunately for many veterans and their families, soldier suicides are not always presumed by the VA to be service-connected, meaning that the affected families are given only a few hundred dollars to help cover thousands of dollars in transportation, funeral and burial expenses.

When a soldier or veteran commits suicide, their families are not only left to deal with the financial aftermath, but they must also cope with the large void that has been left in their hearts. Once A Soldier has created a Facebook group dedicated to veteran families of solider suicide. This is an excellent place to find others who share your story and begin the healing process. Please consider joining to show our strength in numbers, even if you feel you may not want to contribute.

Our team at Once A Soldier has worked with numerous families that have been affected by the tragedy of veteran suicide, so we understand that everyone copes with their losses differently. The real truth is, there is no one right or wrong way to deal with this type of grief, and what works for one person may not work for another. While there probably is no “moving on”, there are a number of ways that you can try to move forward and live in the present as well as for the future. Here are some basic tips to help begin healing:

 

Self Help

Take care of yourself: As hard as it may be, give your body the things it needs: sleep, hydration and food.

Write everything down: Many people find that writing a letter to their lost loved one is beneficial because it allows you to express all the things you were not able to say when they lived. Also, writing down your feelings on a daily basis in a journal or diary can serve as a powerful illustration of your healing process over time.

Find resources and get the support you need. Here are ours:

Talk about your grief and feelings with friends and family: the shock and amount of grief after losing a loved one to suicide is undoubtably overwhelming. It can be helpful to understand that there are some things you can handle on your own and some things you simply can’t. Try to communicate with anyone that you trust, whether it’s a family member, friend, chaplain, military counselor, professional, etc., and you might be surprised how much lighter your burden feels.

Ask for help: Do not be afraid or hesitate to ask the people closest to you for the things you need. This could include help preparing meals, lawn care, getting affairs in order, etc. This could also mean simply asking for space from people’s well-meaning but thoughtless comments. Some days you may want someone to talk to and others you want to be left alone. Both of these are okay. People generally mean well, but if they haven’t experienced your grief, their comments might generally not be well thought-out. Statements like, “at least they aren’t in anymore pain,” for example, might not make you feel better right now. They may not be in pain – but you still are.

Finally, you do not have to experience this loss alone. If you do not have a support system close to you, reach out to support groups, faith communities, mental health professionals and the military community.

Quite possibly the hardest part for many families to cope with is the guilt that stems from losing a soldier. “Why didn’t I see the signs?”, “I should have done more, or reached out more,” and all of those other thoughts can easily creep into your mind as you deal with your loss. Remember: you are NOT responsible. Say that out loud, write it down, whatever it takes – but make sure you understand that you are not to blame for this. The important thing is to take things day by day and know that some days you will be okay and other days will be harder than others.

Life Insurance

Even with a generous life insurance policy in place, there will be steps to complete and decisions to make. Here’s a list of things to keep in mind:

The VA or US Gov’t. doesn’t fly Veteran bodies home.

The airline will hold the body until a ticket and

The funeral home will ask/require you to sign over the policy to their third-party holding company.

The funeral home must get paid first or have iron-clad asurance that they will be paid, before you will be allowed to view the body.

ou do not have to experience this loss alone. If you do not have a support system close to you, reach out to support groups, faith communities, mental health professionals and the military community.

Quite possibly the hardest part for many families to cope with is the guilt that stems from losing a soldier. “Why didn’t I see the signs?”, “I should have done more, or reached out more,” and all of those other thoughts can easily creep into your mind as you deal with your loss. Remember: you are NOT responsible. Say that out loud, write it down, whatever it takes – but make sure you understand that you are not to blame for this. The important thing is to take things day by day and know that some days you will be okay and other days will be harder than others.

Suicide within 2 years of the start of the policy will probably void it. 
Most Vets struggle with satisfying employment after coming home from deployment. The jobs don’t offer the same fulfillment they found with their brothers and many commit suicide within 2 years of coming home. 

Lift the Burden of Veteran Suicide

 

Their families live with PTSD, drug addiction and worse for years, only to find the body at the end. Let’s lift them up and lift off their burden.

 

ABOUT ONCE A SOLDIER

Our Veterans are killing themselves in record numbers mostly due to PTSD. An overmatched VA can’t take care of them or their families. We will.

Soldier suicide leaves Veteran families with thousands of dollars of bills unpaid, mostly bank loans.

We are the only nonprofit standing with the families after a veteran suicide. Stand with us.

Our Mission: Become the preferred channel for donors, advocates and volunteers who care about veteran families left behind after a soldier suicide.

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Jamie Brunette

Veteran suicide comes from all parts of the military. Learn more about how to stop it, PTSD therapies and more. Send us an email at team@onceasoldier.org.