Army Casualty Assistance Officer: Their Duties and Responsibilities

In today’s post, we are going to discuss a position in the United States Army that takes a person with special talents and skills. This position has the title of Casualty Assistance Officer. We are going to talk about this person’s many duties and responsibilities, and also the qualifications needed to become a Casualty Assistance Officer.

The very first thing I must mention is: Casualty Assistance Officers have to face a variety of emotions. These could come in reactions of anger, hate, extreme crying, and even violent reactions from time to time. The Casualty Assistance Officer has to be able to utilize compassion along with choices of words and actions to diffuse many of the people they come into contact with.

The primary duty of the Casualty Assistance Officer

The worst thing about wars and conflicts is death. There is no debating the fact that we will lose men and women when they face enemies that are bent on robbing us of the freedoms we hold dear.

When a service member is killed while on duty, there must be a person who is the primary contact to that member’s family. That contact is the Casualty Assistance Officer. He/she is the one who will knock on the door, or ring the doorbell to gently pass the information of the death of their loved one. This is their primary duty, but upon that news being given, the Casualty Assistance Officer does not just turn around and leave, he/she has many other duties and responsibilities that coincide with the terrible news they just gave.

From day 1

The Casualty Assistance Officer will, from day 1 be much like a shadow for the person they have been assigned to comfort and aide in the mourning process. He/she could be assigned to aide the

  • Primary next of kin

  • Secondary next of kin

  • or possibly the PADD (Person Authorized to Dispense Disposition)

After the news is given, working in a very caring manner, the Casualty Assistance Officer will listen and answer any questions he/she has the ability to answer. Some of these situations can fall into areas where the CAO has to use wise judgement. Deaths can come in a variety of ways that could harm the kin’s emotional and mental balance even further. I speak of death by:

  • Friendly fire

  • Drug or alcohol abuse or overdose

  • Suicide

  • etc….

It is imperative that the CAO is trained in a compassion and understanding. When requests are made by any next of kin, no is never a proper answer. The Army recognizes the kin of any service member as a part of the Army family. They must be treated with all respect and the Casualty Assistance Officer must “bend over backwards” to meet any and all needs and requests.

The Casualty Assistance Officer will not be pulled away for any circumstance until the service member’s next of kin is completely assisted with all matters that the United States Army can fulfill for their family, or the next of kin releases the CAO. This means the CAO will supply the person they are assigned to with their:

He/she will inform the kin that contact can, and should be made at any time 24 hours per day/ 7 days per week.

The Casualty Assistance Officer will aide in:

  • Any immediate needs the next of kin requires

  • Filing of all forms including benefits, mortuary and burial, other possible civilian insurance or wills and such.

  • Needs that can be foreseen in the future.

The Casualty Assistance Officer will also be required to keep strict logs on all that occurs in meetings and phone calls between the next of kin and the CAO.

The CAO has many guidelines that must be followed. This Casualty Assistance Officer handout has a high amount of information.

The Casualty Assistance Officer will be in constant contact with the Casualty Assistance Center, and will also be assigned a Benefits Coordinator and a Mortuary Affairs Coordinator.

Requirements to become a Casualty Assistance Officer

The United States Army does need compassionate CAOs. CAO’s are only assigned if they are the same rank or higher than the deceased or if the next of kin is also military, they must be the same or higher rank. Other requirements to become a CAO are:

  • 6 years or more of service in the United States military

  • Released from any conflicting obligations

  • Not scheduled for deployment for 6 months or more

  • Not a commander of the deceased

  • Not related or close friend to the deceased

  • Rank requirements fall into 3 categories:

  1. Commissioned Officers must be a Captain or higher

  2. Warrant Officers must be a CW2 or higher

  3. Non-commissioned Officers must be a Sergeant 1st Class or higher

Final Words

The Casualty Assistance Officer is by no means an easy or “likeable” job. In my personal opinion, if a service member says they will like reporting the death of a service member to the service member’s family, they should seek a different job.

CAOs are needed because death is an inevitable fact. The Casualty Assistance Officer will face a large amount of pressure and stress with the emotions of family and friends of service members. I personally would like to commend any Soldier who is willing to undertake the position of Casualty Assistance Officer.

If this is a job you feel you would be capable of doing, you will be trained in the proper ways to handle the many situations that could occur. Refreshment training is required yearly.

If you feel that as a survivor you have not been properly treated by the CAO who was assigned to you, or the Casualty Assistance Center, please contact the Family Programs Directorate at this contact:

U.S. Army
Office: Installation Management Command G-9, Family Programs Directorate
Phone number: 210-466-1173

Have you been, or are you now a Casualty Assistance Officer? If so, we would like to hear your comments and advice for anyone who may consider this much needed position in the United States Army, Army National Guard, and the Army Reserve.

Death is a very difficult subject, but it is inevitable for all of us. Having trained individuals such as Casualty Assistance Officers makes the process much easier to handle for those who love and cherish the deceased. Thanks to all who are willing to be that person who can show the compassion needed.

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