MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. -- All members of the armed forces will have their Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance coverage maximum increase from $250,000 to $400,000, effective Sept. 1, in accordance with the Honoring Every Requirement of Exemplary Service Act that recently passed.
“For the price that is paid—the price of losing a loved one —nothing can repay that,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Juanito T. Barrientos, head of personnel management branch at the Installation Personnel Administration Center here. “But this is going to help the families out nonetheless.”
The bipartisan HEROES Act faced little resistance on both the House and Senate Floors. It was approved on Capitol Hill and signed into law by President Bush on May 11, and will amend Titles 10 and 38 of the United States Code, according to http://www.Congress.org.
The major changes being put into effect are the increase of death gratuities and the increase of the SGLI program to its new maximum coverage rate as all service members are automatically enrolled Sept. 1.
The Department of Defense will also be retroactively paying death gratuities of $100,000 to the families for combat deaths in specified conditions on or after Oct. 7, 2001, and before Sept. 1, or who were serving in the theater of operations of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, said Dr. Stephen L. Jones, principle deputy of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Heath Affairs in a recent statement. The current rate of payout is $12,000.
“This increase in coverage and back pay is a good thing in supporting families who have lost [loved ones],” said Staff Sgt. Tim A. Chambers, administrative law chief, Staff Judge Advocate’s office. “The threat is much higher as we fight the war against terrorism and more and more Marines are serving in combat theaters and being put in harm’s way.”
One of the most important changes service members and their families should also be aware of is the increase of the amounts of coverage to choose from.
The previous amount of $10,000 increments will increase to $50,000, said Jones.
“America’s armed forces are made up of the best-trained, most courageous troops in the world,” said U.S. Senator Gordon H. Smith of Oregon. “We owe so much to them for the safety and freedom we enjoy, and extending benefits to the families of the fallen is our duty.”
Although there are many changes being made to the SGLI program, some parts of the original policy will not be affected by the HEROES Act.
Premium rates for SGLI policyholders will still remain at the current rate of 6.5 cents per $1,000 of coverage per month. Service members will see their premiums rise to $26 per month if they retain the new full coverage based on that rate.
Since enrollment will be automatic Sept. 1, those who wish to decline their coverage or wish to reduce it to a lower amount must omit or re-elect only partial coverage of the desired amount through their personnel office. For those who are married, this will require written spousal approval to elect less-than-full coverage amounts, according to the bill.
According to the Office of the SGLI, the DoD will pay the new premiums and provide a minimum coverage of $150,000 while service members deploy, even if they declined or elected lesser coverage. This means that with the new $400,000 policy, a full-coverage policyholder will only be responsible for the remaining amount of the premium while deployed. This clause will cover troops who are serving in areas of operation designated by the secretary of defense as combat zones or during combat operations only.
“I think that it’s awesome that ‘Uncle Sam’ is going to pick up the tab while we deploy,” said Barrientos. “It’s our job as Marines to deploy, and for the government to [pay the premiums] while they’re over there is a great thing.”
Current members of the Veteran’s Group Life Insurance program, which provides benefits for separated and retired service members, will not see any changes to their current policy.
The new changes will affect troops adopting the new VGLI policy upon separation with coverage of more than $250,000 with the SGLI program after Sept. 1 and will be eligible to increase their VGLI coverage to the $400,000 maximum, according to an American Forces Press Services article.
“I think that the retroactive payment is going to help because we’ve lost a lot of Marines and this money will help families out,” said Chambers. “With [$250,000], you might be able to buy a house, but it probably won’t cover the upkeep for that family. And that money goes even faster if you are a spouse and raising kids. We must take care of our widows - they are the virtuous family members who need help in times of need.”