THE BLOG
05/24/2010 03:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Decent Proposal for President Obama on Memorial Day

Memorial Day is just around the corner. Many of us are making plans how to spend the holiday. Perhaps we will invite family and friends to a barbecue party in the afternoon in the backyard or perhaps we will go to one ourselves. Perhaps we will take advantage of the long weekend and take that vacation we have been planning for months. Or perhaps we will catch-up on the movies we wanted to see and books we wanted to read or just laze around enjoying the warm spring sun. But how many of us will actually remember that on Memorial Day we commemorate U.S. men and women who died while in the military service, men and women who sacrificed their lives so that we can enjoy our lives in peace? How many of us will think of how families of those who died are coping with the loss of their loved ones?

This weekend I started to think about how do we, as a nation, take care of the families of those died while on active duty. I came across the website for an excellent organization called TAPS -- Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors -- and found this document that provided a lot of useful information. I wanted to learn, in particular, how financially secure were the families of US soldiers killed in action. I learned that a tax-exempt death-gratuity payment of $100,000 is made to next of kin. Service members are also automatically insured for a maximum of $400,000 through Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program. Eligible spouses and children of Service members are also entitled to very modest monthly payments under the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP).

Is that enough, I wondered! How much is enough? How much is enough for families of those who died for us? Though no amount of financial security could ever compensate for the loss of loved ones and TAPS and other organizations work hard to provide emotional and peer support, shouldn't we make sure that families of soldiers who sacrificed their lives do not face economic hardship? Our moral imperative, I think, is to keep providing financial compensation to families of soldiers as if they were alive. It is the right thing to do. It is a decent thing to do.

How much will that cost? Can we afford it? I did some approximate calculations. My numbers may not be exact but they are more or less in the ballpark. Let us assume that the average yearly salary and benefits of soldiers is around $60,000 and assume that the average age of a soldier who dies on active duty is, say 25. If we were to continue to pay the salary and benefits for, say, 40 more years, the total cost in present value terms will be roughly $1.2 million assuming an annual discount rate of 4%. The benefits that are currently provided -- $100,000 in death-gratuity, $400,000 in life-insurance and, say, additional $200,000 in survivor benefits -- amount to a total of $700,000. So, implementing my proposal would require an additional $500,000 for every soldier who loses his life in combat.

This website on CNN suggests, based on data for last seven to eight years -- that on average roughly 600 soldiers have died every year. Raising additional half-a-million dollars for 600 soldiers requires an additional outlay of $300 million. Let me put that in perspective -- that is one dollar per year for each one of us in the United States. You heard me right. This year when you sip your cup of coffee, a can of soda or beer on Memorial Day, ask if we should sacrifice one dollar per person to make the families of soldiers who died for us economically whole. You may want to know that our annual military budget is over $600 billion or roughly $2,000 for each one of us in the United States. My proposal does not stipulate an increase in the military budget or new taxes. It merely requires that we rethink our priorities and do a very minor reallocation.

You may ask -- Can I do something?

If you agree with me, you can write to your congressperson, telling them about this proposal. You can email, blog, tweet and put the link to this article on Facebook to make sure that President Obama gets to hear about it on or before Memorial Day. Then you can go have another beer or a cup of coffee.