Survivor Outreach Services Plays a Vital Role in Supporting Survivors

By Lytaria B. Walker, Directorate of Prevention, Resilience and ReadinessOctober 23, 2023

Survivor Outreach Services Plays a Vital Role in Supporting Survivors
(Photo Credit: Steve Willis Photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

Survivor Outreach Services (SOS) is the official Army program that provides long-term support to surviving Families of fallen Soldiers. This program was designed and developed by survivors.

Jill Knaus, program manager for the Army G-9 Survivor Outreach Services program, explains that the program came about because of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2006. “Of course, the focus was the losses that were occurring across all of the services that were happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the Army decided that SOS was going to be an open-arms kind of program.’’

She continues, “It doesn’t matter if the Soldier was lost in Iraq or Afghanistan or how or when the Soldier dies. Any Soldier that we lose, their Family is supported throughout the entire process. We even have some Families that we work with who lost their Soldiers going as far back as the Vietnam era.’’

The program keeps survivors connected to the Army in every way possible. It also does a lot of referral, networking and liaison work. Knaus says, “For example, maneuvering through the Tricare system can be quite cumbersome. Sometimes, survivors don’t know what benefits they’re eligible for. We help them with that.’’

SOS is all-encompassing, as it also covers the extended Family of service members. Most of those receiving services are spouses, parents and children. According to Knaus, “Soldiers’ siblings need a lot of support, too. We’re there to provide for them, as well. They may need a shoulder to lean on or just a listening ear. We want them to know that we haven’t forgotten about them.’’

There is an intersection between Survivor Outreach Services and the Suicide Prevention Program within the Army. SOS plays a vital role in the mental health of surviving Families, which is considered post intervention. The Army Suicide Prevention Program is working hard to lessen the need for SOS. Knaus explains, “About three years ago, SOS started to make an effort to look really hard at survivors of suicide. Along with the program we offer, we have an Advisory Council that gets to meet with the chief of staff of the Army.’’

Surviving Family members make up a part of that council. The organization started examining the number of losses and the types of deaths the Army was seeing. Knaus says, “Overwhelmingly, year after year, a huge number of those were losses by suicide. So, we specifically looked for candidates for that council who were survivors of suicide to help advise senior leaders. We wanted to have a direct correlation, hear their story and make sure that we were supporting them, knowing that the stigma around mental health still exists. We wanted to make sure that we were meeting their needs as well.’’

She adds, “Our program doesn’t care how you lost your Soldier. Their mental well-being, their grief, their recovery is not less because of the manner in which they lost their Soldier.’’ This is why they actively bring suicide survivors into the program to get their feedback, according to Knaus. This enforces the importance of the intersection between SOS and the Army Suicide Prevention Program.

“I am so proud of what the Army does today to take care of Families,’’ Knaus concludes.

If you are a surviving Family member of a Soldier and need help, please visit the SOS website at You may also contact the Army’s Gold Star and surviving Family member representative at 833-313-1960.