B-176847, MAR 21, 1973

B-176847: Mar 21, 1973

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THE GOVERNMENT IS NOT LIABLE FOR A SECOND PAYMENT OF DEATH GRATUITY TO THE PROPER PAYEE OR PAYEES WHERE THE ORIGINAL PAYMENT WAS MADE IN RELIANCE ON THE SERVICEMAN'S REPRESENTATIONS. BEGGS WAS PAID A SIX MONTHS' DEATH GRATUITY AS SURVIVING SPOUSE. BEGGS WAS THE LAWFUL WIFE OF SERGEANT BEGGS AT THE TIME OF HIS DEATH WAS BASED UPON REPRESENTATIONS MADE BY SERGEANT BEGGS IN SEVERAL DA FORMS (DA FORM 41. RESPECTIVELY) THAT DONNA BEGGS WAS HIS WIFE. THE RECORD INDICATES THAT YOUR SON AND DONNA BEGGS WERE CEREMONIALLY MARRIED ON APRIL 3. THIS INVESTIGATION AND A FURTHER INVESTIGATION BY FEDERAL AUTHORITIES INDICATED THAT SERGEANT BEGGS WAS AWARE OF THIS FACT AT THE TIME OF HIS MARRIAGE TO DONNA BEGGS ON APRIL 3.

B-176847, MAR 21, 1973

MILITARY PERSONNEL - SIX MONTHS' DEATH GRATUITY DECISION SUSTAINING THE DENIAL OF A CLAIM BY WALTER C. BEGGS FOR SIX MONTHS' DEATH GRATUITY INCIDENT TO THE DEATH OF HIS SON, SGT. TERRY K. BEGGS. THE GOVERNMENT IS NOT LIABLE FOR A SECOND PAYMENT OF DEATH GRATUITY TO THE PROPER PAYEE OR PAYEES WHERE THE ORIGINAL PAYMENT WAS MADE IN RELIANCE ON THE SERVICEMAN'S REPRESENTATIONS, WHETHER WILFUL OR ERRONEOUS, AS TO HIS MARITAL STATUS AND NOTHING OTHERWISE APPEARED TO GIVE RISE TO DOUBT AS TO THE CORRECTNESS OF SUCH REPRESENTATIONS. SEE 37 COMP. GEN. 131 (1957).

TO MR. WALTER C. BEGGS:

WE REFER TO YOUR RECENT LETTER IN RESPONSE TO OUR REPORT B-176847, DATED OCTOBER 25, 1972, ADDRESSED TO THE HONORABLE JOHN G. TOWER, UNITED STATES SENATE, CONCERNING THE DENIAL OF YOUR CLAIM BY SETTLEMENT CERTIFICATE DATED APRIL 4, 1972, FOR SIX MONTHS' DEATH GRATUITY INCIDENT TO THE DEATH OF YOUR SON, SERGEANT TERRY K. BEGGS, UNITED STATES ARMY, WHO DIED JUNE 3, 1971. YOUR LETTER IN EFFECT CONSTITUTES A REQUEST FOR RECONSIDERATION OF THE ABOVE SETTLEMENT BY OUR CLAIMS DIVISION.

AS POINTED OUT IN OUR REPORT OF OCTOBER 25, 1972, UPON THE DEATH OF SERGEANT BEGGS ON JUNE 3, 1971, DONNA G. BEGGS WAS PAID A SIX MONTHS' DEATH GRATUITY AS SURVIVING SPOUSE, ON JUNE 11, 1971, UNDER THE PROVISIONS OF 10 U.S.C. 1475 AND 1477. THE ADMINISTRATIVE DETERMINATION THAT DONNA G. BEGGS WAS THE LAWFUL WIFE OF SERGEANT BEGGS AT THE TIME OF HIS DEATH WAS BASED UPON REPRESENTATIONS MADE BY SERGEANT BEGGS IN SEVERAL DA FORMS (DA FORM 41, RECORD OF EMERGENCY DATA AND DA FORM 3298, AUTHORIZATION TO START OR STOP BASIC ALLOWANCE FOR QUARTERS CREDIT SIGNED BY YOUR SON ON FEBRUARY 13, 1971, AND APRIL 10, 1970, RESPECTIVELY) THAT DONNA BEGGS WAS HIS WIFE. THE RECORD INDICATES THAT YOUR SON AND DONNA BEGGS WERE CEREMONIALLY MARRIED ON APRIL 3, 1970, IN THE STATE OF MISSOURI. FOLLOWING THE DEATH OF YOUR SON AND PAYMENT OF THE GRATUITY, AN INVESTIGATION BY THE DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY REVEALED, HOWEVER, THAT DONNA BEGGS HAD A PRIOR EXISTING MARRIAGE TO JAMES W. JOHNSON, WHOM SHE MARRIED MAY 27, 1967. THIS INVESTIGATION AND A FURTHER INVESTIGATION BY FEDERAL AUTHORITIES INDICATED THAT SERGEANT BEGGS WAS AWARE OF THIS FACT AT THE TIME OF HIS MARRIAGE TO DONNA BEGGS ON APRIL 3, 1970.

WITH YOUR LETTER YOU ENCLOSED A COPY OF A CORRECTED FINAL REPORT OF CASUALTY (DD FORM 1300) DATED DECEMBER 2, 1971, IN CONNECTION WITH YOUR SON'S DEATH, WITH THE NOTATION THEREON THAT MRS. DONNA G. JOHNSON (BEGGS) WAS PREVIOUSLY SHOWN AS WIFE OF THE DECEDENT BUT THAT SUBSEQUENT INFORMATION RECEIVED IN THE DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY REVEALED THAT INDIVIDUAL WAS NOT LAWFULLY MARRIED TO THE DECEASED. THE NOTATION ALSO STATES THAT INVESTIGATION IS CONTINUING BY FEDERAL AUTHORITIES. YOU ASK FOR THE SOURCE OF OUR INFORMATION THAT YOUR SON KNEW AT THE TIME OF HIS MARRIAGE TO DONNA BEGGS THAT SHE HAD A PRIOR EXISTING MARRIAGE THAT WAS NOT TERMINATED BY JUDICIAL DECREE.

UNDER THE PROVISIONS OF 10 U.S.C. 1477, PARENTS OF A DECEASED SERVICEMAN MAY BE CONSIDERED IN THE DESIGNATED ORDER OF PREFERENCE SPECIFIED AS BENEFICIARIES WITHOUT DESIGNATION BY THE SERVICEMAN. YOUR SON DID NOT DESIGNATE HIS PARENTS AS ALTERNATE BENEFICIARIES. IN THIS REGARD, THE DENIAL OF YOUR CLAIM WAS NOT BASED UPON A DETERMINATION THAT AS A PARENT YOU WERE NOT A PROPER PAYEE OF THE DEATH GRATUITY, RATHER, SUCH DENIAL WAS BASED ON YOUR SON'S REPRESENTATION IN THE ABOVE MENTIONED ADMINISTRATIVE FORMS THAT HE HAD A SURVIVING SPOUSE AND UNDER THE LAW SHE TAKES PRECEDENCE.

AS POINTED OUT IN OUR CLAIMS DIVISION SETTLEMENT DATED APRIL 4, 1972, AND FURTHER EXPLAINED IN OUR REPORT OF OCTOBER 25, 1972, TO SENATOR TOWER, THE GOVERNMENT IS NOT LIABLE FOR A SECOND PAYMENT OF DEATH GRATUITY TO THE PROPER PAYEE OR PAYEES WHERE THE ORIGINAL PAYMENT WAS MADE IN RELIANCE ON THE SERVICEMAN'S REPRESENTATIONS, WHETHER WILFUL OR ERRONEOUS, AS TO HIS MARITAL STATUS AND NOTHING OTHERWISE APPEARED TO GIVE RISE TO DOUBT AS TO THE CORRECTNESS OF SUCH REPRESENTATIONS.

UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES THE PAYMENT IS NOT REGARDED AS "ERRONEOUS." SEE 37 COMP. GEN. 131 (1957), A COPY OF WHICH IS ENCLOSED. THE GOVERNMENT MUST RELY ON THE REPRESENTATIONS OF A SERVICEMAN WITHOUT HAVING TO CONDUCT AN INVESTIGATION SIMULTANEOUSLY AT THE DATE OF DEATH TO DETERMINE THE VALIDITY THEREOF, PARTICULARLY WHERE THERE IS NO EVIDENCE PRESENT INDICATING THAT THE REPRESENTATIONS ARE NOT CORRECT.

OUR INFORMATION IS BASED ON OFFICIAL INVESTIGATIVE REPORTS FURNISHED US BY THE DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY. WHILE THE LATEST REPORT OF CASUALTY ENCLOSED WITH YOUR LETTER APPEARS TO INDICATE THAT INVESTIGATION OF THIS MATTER BY FEDERAL AUTHORITIES IS CONTINUING, ANY EVIDENCE THAT MAY BE SUBSEQUENTLY ADDUCED WOULD NOT CHANGE THE FACT THAT THE ORIGINAL PAYMENT OF THE DEATH GRATUITY WAS BASED ON OFFICIAL RECORDS ON FILE WITH THE DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY ON THE DATE OF YOUR SON'S DEATH IN WHICH HE LISTED DONNA BEGGS AS HIS WIFE.

SINCE THE PAYMENT OF THE DEATH GRATUITY TO DONNA BEGGS AS SURVIVING SPOUSE WAS MADE ON THE BASIS OF REPRESENTATIONS BY SERGEANT BEGGS THAT SHE WAS HIS WIFE AND THERE WAS NOTHING IN THE RECORD TO INDICATE OTHERWISE, A SECOND PAYMENT TO YOU AS HIS FATHER IS PRECLUDED.

THE ABOVE RULE APPLIES WHETHER THE REPRESENTATIONS BY THE SERVICEMAN WERE WILFUL OR ERRONEOUS. MOREOVER, PAYMENT OF YOUR CLAIM WOULD BE PRECLUDED WHETHER OR NOT SERGEANT BEGGS HAD KNOWLEDGE OF DONNA BEGGS' PRIOR MARRIAGE.

WHILE IT IS UNFORTUNATE THAT YOUR SON'S MARITAL STATUS WAS NOT RESOLVED PRIOR TO PAYMENT OF THE GRATUITY BY THE DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY, ON THE RECORD BEFORE US THERE EXISTS NO BASIS FOR A DUAL PAYMENT OF THE GRATUITY TO YOU. ACCORDINGLY, THE SETTLEMENT OF APRIL 4, 1972, DISALLOWING YOUR CLAIM FOR THE SIX MONTHS' DEATH GRATUITY, MUST BE SUSTAINED.