The increase in suicides among veterans and active-duty members over the last decade has caused many investigators to take a closer look at how military life insurance might factor into these deaths. Currently, the military provides life insurance for families of servicemembers who have committed suicide.
A possible red flag
Jami Calahan, the widow of Army Spc. James Christian Paquette, who committed suicide in 2011, told the Los Angeles Times that her husband might still be alive today if suicide was not covered under his life insurance plan.
According to the news source, Paquette visited the Ft. Wainwright, Alaska benefits office two weeks before he killed himself, asking about his plan in regard to suicide. Following his death, $400,000 was paid to his family.
Calahan told the news source that she only found out about Paquette's trip to the benefits office from investigators. Two years later, she remains angered by the fact that no one at the office recognized this as a red flag.
"He just wanted to know we would be provided for," Calahan said.
Until 2005, the standard military life insurance coverage was $250,000. Congress raised the coverage to $400,000 at the height of the Iraq war, when the suicide rate for servicemembers and veterans also began to rise. Unlike private insurance companies, which block suicide coverage for the first two years, coverage for suicide under military life insurance begins upon enlistment.
The current military life insurance plan covers all deaths except for execution for treason.
Although experts told the news source that life insurance is not a major factor in military suicide cases, many researchers have suggested that knowing one's family will be more than adequately covered after one's death might provide some motivation. Previous studies of private life insurance plans in the U.S. and overseas have shown that suicide rates tend to spike once restrictions on the suicide coverage are lifted, the news source reported. The studies added that the policies for those who committed suicide issued larger sums than those who died from natural causes.
Still, the delicate nature of military suicides makes the issue harder to parse, and some Defense Department members, including director of the DoD Suicide Prevention Office Jacqueline Garrick, worry that it might be unfair to leave the families of veterans and servicemembers with nothing.
"Family members should not be punished or penalized because of a medical condition of their loved one," Garrick told the news source.