Feature | Aug. 18, 2006

Casualty office: Light of hope for those in mourning

By Senior Airman Christian Michael 1st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The funeral has passed and you have no idea what to do. Did you know there is help out there to ensure you're as taken cared of as possible? That's where the Langley Casualty Office comes in. 

The Langley Casualty Office helps people every day face an uncertain future when their loved one has passed away. 

"Our primary purpose is to report casualties and assist next of kin to ensure they're taken care of," said Tricia McGraw, Casualty and Survivor Benefits counselor. "We spend a lot of time presenting the benefits available for them and their children." 

The office is in charge of arranging notifications for members who have passed away.

 When a member dies in the line of duty for their country, it's the casualty office that will contact the commander of that member's unit, who will then often accompany a medical officer and a chaplain to attend the home of deceased member's family to notify them. 

The casualty office is also there post-funeral to help dependents and next-of-kin prepare to continue life without their loved one, with the support of a grateful nation. 

Currently, assistance ranges differently according to service. The Air Force, however, seems to stand above the rest, as proven by the numbers of other service's members next-of-kin who come to Langley looking for help. 

"The Air Force is really the best in casualty affairs," said Ms. McGraw. "We take more time and more effort to make sure people are taken care of." 

That care includes searching all possible benefits available to members, such as the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance, programs available for families, who are now without an income, and even helping spouses deal with financial organizations. 

The office works to streamline what would otherwise be a bombardment on a still-emotionally distraught dependent who possibly may have never dealt with finances.
"We help take care of paperwork," said Ms. McGraw, "and even deal with creditors, so the family isn't overwhelmed." 

Huger Ford, the office's newest addition, has been working in the office only a few weeks, but has already seen the value of the work performed. 

"In the scope of the grieving family, what we can do is very important," he said. "There's a lot of bureaucracy they have to deal with, and we can be there to help." 

Here since 1997, Ms. McGraw has seen many family members through her small office at the Military Personnel Flight. 

Active-duty deaths make only about three to five percent of yearly deaths in the Air Force the rest are almost entirely retiree deaths. Regardless of who passes away, the office is there to help. 

"We offer the support for family members so they feel a little less alone," she said. "We extend the helping hand from the Air Force." 

Part of extending their hand can make a large difference is people's peace of mind.
"The other day, I was able to help a widow who had been getting the run around," said Mr. Ford. "Before she left, she had hugged me and thanked me." 

For Mr. Ford, that kind of customer receipt makes it all worthwhile. 

"I'm learning that it's satisfaction for the customer," he said. "We're a place of help and relief during the worst of times."