During the last five years the Air Force notified the families of 232 Airmen that their son or daughter died.
Although most anyone can tell you the military can be a dangerous job and being put in harm’s way is often just part of the commitment, the most disturbing part about that statistic is 212 of those Airmen died while off duty.
Even more upsetting is that, because of the circumstances surrounding the deaths, some families were paid no benefits. In every case, the deciding factor came down to the line of duty determination.
A line of duty determination investigation is conducted anytime a member acquires a debilitating disease, incurs a significant injury or dies under unusual circumstances, said Capt. Mikal Nuhn, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa judge advocate. The findings determine whether or not death benefits are paid.
“When a military member is seriously injured or dies, certain statutory rights or benefits accrue to the member or their family,” Nuhn said, “but only if the disability or death was attributed to military service and in the line of duty.”
There are four possible outcomes of a LOD determination:
1. Condition existed prior to service and was not aggravated by service.
2. In the line of duty, not due to a service member’s own misconduct.
3. Not in the line of duty and not due to the service member’s own misconduct.
4. Not in the line of duty and due to the sevice member’s own misconduct.
Nuhn explained how to avoid the fourth outcome in very simple terms.
“Always behave in a reasonably safe manner, because your actions could have unintended negative consequences for your loved ones,” he said.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a trip to Switzerland to go bungee jumping or hit the slopes to shred some powder. As long as you take all safety precautions these activities would likely be considered “in the line of duty” and you or your family would receive benefits.
However, a scenario that would likely not provide death benefits to your family is one that involves alcohol. An Airman who makes the decision to get behind the wheel after having too many drinks, puts themselves and their family at risk, even if it is not their intention.
Making good choices and taking personal responsibility is the message the USAFE-AFAFRICA safety directorate continues to emphasize to the command. The wingman concept is a great safety net, but in the end, every individual is responsible for their own actions and consequences.
“By definition, all mishaps are preventable,” said Master Sgt. James Musgrave, USAFE-AFAFRICA mishap prevention manager.
Accidents happen, but there are always ways to minimize or eliminate risk in everything you do.
“While the younger Airmen have a good portion of the mishaps, no age or rank is immune to mishaps,” Musgrave said. “It’s more of a psychology issue than an age issue. ‘It will never happen to me’ is a common jinx if the speaker is not risk conscious.”
As the Air Force Safety Center motto states: “Safety is no accident.”
“Be risk aware, not inattentive,” Musgrave said. “One of the leading factors of mishaps is inattention, which sometimes is a result of boredom or a perceived absence of a threat. If Airmen are aware of the risks, they can control the ones that are controllable.”