The families of troops killed overseas stand to get $12,000 instead of $6,000.

WASHINGTON (AP) – The families of soldiers killed during almost daily attacks in Iraq would get a $12,000 tax-free death compensation payment under a bill Congress is sending to President Bush.

The House Wednesday night unanimously approved the bill, doubling the current $6,000 benefit and granting the death gratuity to families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Military and reserve personnel steadily getting called for duty in Iraq also would benefit from new tax breaks on home sales, travel expenses and child care.

“It’s long overdue,” said Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas. “It’s been a long time since 9/11, and we are trying to take care of our military.”

The increased death gratuity, meant to offset the cost of a funeral and other immediate expenses, will be in addition to benefits already available to the survivors of soldiers killed in war. Families typically get payment from a $250,000 life insurance policy, a benefit that few service members choose to reduce or eliminate.

Families do not pay federal income taxes for the year the service member died. Surviving spouses, while still unmarried, and surviving children get a monthly dependency compensation payment. They are also eligible for full Social Security death and survivors’ benefits.

“We made modest improvements to help the families of the members of the military who have given the supreme sacrifice,” said Rep. Amo Houghton, R-N.Y.

Active duty and reserve personnel on standby and on their way to war stand to benefit from the bill’s other changes, which lower taxes on military benefits and expenses.

Soldiers deployed away from home would find it easier to take advantage of tax breaks on capital gains when they sell their houses. The bill suspends a rule that requires homeowners to live in the house during two of the past five years to qualify for the tax break. Lawmakers said military men and women on the move often cannot meet that requirement.

National Guard and Reserve forces who travel overnight for training could use a new tax deduction for travel and lodging costs. Those who do not itemize their tax deductions, and instead use a standard deduction, could still use the benefit. Soldiers in contingency operations that support combat zones would also get an extension to file their tax returns already available to soldiers in combat.

AP-ES-11-05-03 1851EST

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