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What is the process for notifying families of casualties?

Remember to keep in mind that each Service is responsible for notification of next of kin and has its own specific procedures for ensuring expeditious and personal notification. In the event of a servicemember injury or illness, only the primary next of kin (PNOK) will be notified and may be notified telephonically. All notified families will have ready access to information as it becomes available. In all death and missing cases, the PNOK and secondary next of kin (SNOK), and any other person listed on the DD Form 93 (Record of Emergency Data), will be notified in person. The notification will be made as a matter of highest priority, taking precedence over all other responsibilities the notifier has. Whenever possible, the notifier’s grade is equal to or higher than the grade of the casualty. When the PNOK is also a servicemember, the notifier’s grade will be equal to or higher than the grade of the PNOK. Personal notification will generally be made between 0600 and 2200 hours local time. The PNOK is always notified first.

Although each Service’s notification process is slightly different, in general the process works as follows:

The Service will notify all PNOK and SNOK as soon as possible, generally within 24-48 hours.

In injury cases deemed to be VSI or SI, the PNOK is normally telephonically notified. For minor injuries, notification generally comes through other channels (i.e., the hospital or directly from the servicemember).

How is the primary next of kin (PNOK) determined?

The person most closely related to the casualty is considered the PNOK for notification and assistance purposes. This is normally the spouse for married persons and the parents for unmarried servicemembers/individuals. The precedence of NOK with equal relationships to the casualty is governed by seniority (age). Equal relationship situations include divorced parents, children, and siblings. Minor children’s rights are exercised by their parents or legal guardian. The adult NOK is usually the first person highest in the line of succession who has reached the age of eighteen. Even if a minor, the spouse is always considered the PNOK. The following order of precedence is used to identify the PNOK:

  • Spouse
  • Natural, adopted, step and illegitimate children
  • Parents

Persons standing in loco parentis (In loco parentis means a person who is charged with a parent’s duties and responsibilities in the place of a parent, normally someone who stood in the relationship of a parent to the deceased for a period of at least 5 years prior to the servicemember reaching 18 years of age.)
Persons granted legal custody of the individual by a court decree of statutory provision

Brothers or sisters, to include half-blood and those acquired through adoption

Other relatives in order of relationship to the individual
If no other persons are available, the Secretary of the Military the individual SNOK is any other next of kin other than the PNOK.

What Causes Delays in Notification of Family Members?

The number one reason for delay in notification the servicemember has been wounded/injured is incorrect phone numbers provided on the emergency information data card. It is IMPERATIVE the servicemember keeps this information updated. Precious time is wasted when military officials have to track down correct notification numbers for family members. Delays are also common when the family member leaves the area without notifying the unit Rear Detachment Commander or Family Readiness Point of Contact. The number one rule of thumb is to let someone in the unit know that you are leaving the area and to provide them with a working phone number where you can be reached should they need to contact you. How often will families be provided updates on their Servicemember?

The Service will pass information to PNOK as it becomes available. Since the PNOK will be notified of updates, families/friends should use the PNOK as a focal point for sharing information internally. In the first hours after the incident, information may be limited. If there is no solid evidence a particular servicemember was involved in the incident, but military officials have reason to believe the servicemember was involved, families will be given a “believed to be” notification. This simply tells the family that the military has good reason to believe their loved one was involved and that they will be provided updates as they become available. This type of notification will be delivered only when there is overwhelming reason to believe their servicemember was involved. If it is “believed to be killed” or “believed to be missing”, PNOK and SNOK will be notified in person. If it is “believed to be injured,” only the primary next of kin will be notified telephonically. All family members who have been notified originally will be kept informed of developments in their cases.