Fact Check

What's a Military Family Worth?

A comparison of compensation paid to September 11 victims and service members killed on active duty cites old figures.

Published June 6, 2002

Cemetery (Getty Images)
Cemetery (Image courtesy of Getty Images)
Article contrasts compensation paid to families of September 11 victims with benefits paid to families of U.S. military personnel killed on active duty.

A Rush Limbaugh piece from March 2002 (below) contrasted the compensation paid to families of September 11 victims with benefits paid to families of U.S. military personnel killed on active duty. Although most of the figures cited in the article were accurate at the time it was written, subsequent changes have made much of the original article outdated:

What's a Military Family Worth?
by Rush Limbaugh
March 11, 2002

I think the vast differences in compensation between the victims of the September 11th casualty, and those who die serving the country in uniform, are profound. No one is really talking about it either because you just don't criticize anything having to do with September 11th. Well, I just can't let the numbers pass by because it says something really disturbing about the entitlement mentality of this country.

If you lost a family member in the September 11th attack, you're going to get an average of $1,185,000. The range is a minimum guarantee of $250,000, all the way up to $4.7 million.

If you are a surviving family member of an American soldier killed in action, the first check you get is a $6,000 direct death benefit, half of which is taxable. Next, you get $1,750 for burial costs. If you are the surviving spouse, you get $833 a month until you remarry. And there's a payment of $211 per month for each child under 18. When the child hits 18, those payments come to a screeching halt.

Keep in mind that some of the people that are getting an average of $1.185 million up to $4.7 million are complaining that it's not enough. We also learned over the weekend that some of the victims from the Oklahoma City bombing have started an organization asking for the same deal that the September 11th families are getting. In addition to that, some of the families of those bombed in the embassies are now asking for compensation as well.

You see where this is going, don't you?

Folks, this is part and parcel of over fifty years of entitlement politics in this country. It's just really sad.

Family members of September 11 victims (which include those killed at the World Trade Centers, the Pentagon, and the Shanksville, Pennsylvania, crash site) could apply to receive compensation from the Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) established by the federal government. The (non-taxable) compensation amount included $250,000 (plus an additional $100,000 for the spouse and each dependent of the victim) in non-economic losses, plus additional compensation for economic loss determined by factors such as the victim's age and income level. As of April 2004, more than $2.6 billion in compensation had been paid out, with the families of deceased victims receiving an average of $1.8 million each.

In contrast, back in 2002 the figures listed on the military's Death Benefits chart regarding benefits provided to the families of service members who died or were killed on active duty were paltry by comparison:

  • A $6,000 death gratuity to provide immediate cash to meet the needs of survivors.
  • A burial allowance ranging from $100 to $3,000 (and other associated compensation for funeral and burial costs).
  • A Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) for the spouse at a flat rate annuity of $833 per month, with an additional $211 paid for each dependent child until age 18.

Since then, however, the amount of the death gratuity has been increased to a non-taxable $100,000 (retroactive to 7 October 2001), and the DIC amounts have been raised to an $1,154 monthly annuity plus an additional $286 monthly allowance for each dependent child (effective 1 December 2008 for veterans who died on or after 1 January 1993).

Also, the original piece didn't mention that military personnel are automatically insured (unless they decline the coverage) under the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program, which at the time paid a maximum benefit of $250,000 to the families of servicemen killed while on active service — the same as the base amount paid through the VCF to the families of civilians killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks. The maximum SGLI benefit has since been increased to $400,000.

We note that service members have to pay premiums for SGLI (currently $27 per month for the maximum coverage), and that many of the civilians killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks also had life insurance policies which paid benefits to their surviving family members.

This piece has also been circulated with a coda that looks like it was tacked on by someone else, possibly as a commentary on the article which has now mistakenly been assumed to be a part of the original article itself:

"Patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime." — Adlai E. Stevenson, Jr.

Every time when a pay raise comes up for the military they usually receive next to nothing of a raise. Now the green machine is in combat in the Middle East while their families have to survive on food stamps and live in low rent housing. However our own U.S. Congress just voted themselves a raise, and many of you don't know that they only have to be in Congress one-time to receive a pension that is more than $15,000 per month and most are now equal to be millionaires plus. They also do not receive Social Security on retirement because they didn't have to pay into the system.

If some of the military people stay in for 20 years and get out as an E-7 you may receive a pension of $1,000 per month, and the very people who placed you in harms way receive a pension of $15,000 per month. I would like to see our elected officials pick up a weapon and join ranks before they start cutting out benefits and lowering pay for our sons and daughters who are now fighting.

The claim that Congressmen can receive lavish pensions after serving only a single term in Congress (eventually totaling into the millions of dollars) and that they neither pay into nor receive benefits from the Social Security fund is misinformation already covered in a separate article on this site. (As of 2007, the average annuity for retired members of Congress was between about $36,000 and $63,000.)

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.