Amendment to the Federal Employees' Compensation Act, 5 U.S.C. § 8102a – Death Gratuity
This new provision creates a death gratuity for federal employees (and employees of non-appropriated fund instrumentalities) by authorizing the United States to pay up to $100,000 to the survivors of “an employee who dies of injuries incurred in connection with the employee’s service with an Armed Force in a contingency operation.
The Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA) was recently amended by adding a new section 8102a (5 U.S.C. § 8102a – Death Gratuity). (See section 1105 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2008, Public Law 110-181) This new provision creates a death gratuity for federal employees (and employees of nonappropriated fund instrumentalities) by authorizing the United States to pay up to $100,000 to the survivors of "an employee who dies of injuries incurred in connection with the employee's service with an Armed Force in a contingency operation." Unlike other death gratuities, this death gratuity was placed within FECA and, for that reason, will be administered by the Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) as part of the FECA program.
This provision became effective on January 28, 2008, and OWCP is currently drafting regulations implementing the amendment. This one-time death gratuity is to be disbursed to the survivors of the employee in a specific, and somewhat complicated, order of precedence set forth in the statute. It is important to note that these beneficiary stipulations are unique to this new provision, and no existing DOL rules or guidelines cover these circumstances.
The statute also provides the employee the opportunity to change the order of precedence in regard to certain survivors as well as designate up to 50 percent of the benefit to any person. Since the death gratuity is now in effect, DOL believes that it is imperative that potentially affected federal employees be provided the opportunity to exercise the designation option for any death gratuity that unfortunately may be payable.
Therefore, OWCP has created a form, a copy of which is enclosed, to be used by employees to designate the distribution of the death gratuity, should one be payable. The instructions accompanying the form explain the order of precedence that governs awarding the death gratuity and the optional designations that an employee can make. No designation is necessary if an employee wishes any death gratuity to be distributed in accordance with the order of precedence set out in the statute.
We recommend that any time a Federal employee is assigned to provide service to an Armed Force in a contingency operation, as defined in this provision, he or she be informed of this death gratuity and be given the opportunity to designate a beneficiary on the enclosed form. Employees already so assigned should also be given this opportunity. An employee desiring to designate one or more beneficiaries of a death gratuity payable under this provision should complete and sign a copy of this form, retain a copy, and give the original to his or her employer to be maintained by the employer in the employee's official personnel file, or a related system of records, in case it should be needed at any time in the future.
We recommend very strongly that an employee desiring to make a designation varying the order of precedence in the statute, or awarding some of the benefit to another person, utilize the form to avoid potential difficulties in discerning their intentions. However, we recognize that there will be exigent circumstances where this is not possible. In the event that the attached form is not utilized to make a desired designation, we will recognize any document specifying the beneficiary designation that an employee desires to make if it is both signed and dated by the employee and signed and dated by an official of the employing agency involved prior to the death of the employee. Employees not using the form should clearly specify any designation they wish to make.
Link to designation form:    Designation Form