Veteran’s Benefits: What, Who & How Veterans and their families are eligible for a variety of benefits related to their service. Figuring out which benefits are available, and how to apply for them, can be overwhelming. This handout provides basic information and a simple framework for determining whether you may be eligible for benefits. It is always recommended that you meet with an attorney for detailed information and an analysis specific to your situation. Important Terms & Definitions: • A veteran is someone who served in the armed forces and was discharged. • A service member is someone still on active duty or in the reserves. • A surviving spouse is the wife or husband of a person who was enlisted in the armed forces and has died (regardless of whether death occurred in combat or years later of other causes.) • Accrued benefits are benefits earned by the veteran that had NOT been paid to them at the time of their death. Also, the name of the benefit received will change depending on who is receiving it. • A veteran receives Veteran’s Assistance (VA) benefits. • A surviving spouse or family member receives Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits. What is Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)? • It is a flat rate monthly sum paid to families of service members and veterans if the death was service-connected (or meets other criteria). • Currently, the monthly rate is $1195 per household o Add $254 per month if: At the time of the Veteran’s death, the Veteran was receiving (or entitled to receive) benefits at the 100% rate for a continuous period of at least eight years immediately preceding death. AND the surviving spouse was married to the veteran for those same eight years. (This is called “Enhanced DIC.”) o Add $296 for each dependent child under age 18. Who might be eligible to receive DIC benefits? • Spouses, minor children of the deceased, and parents who were dependent on the veteran or service member at the time of death (need based benefit). What are the requirements for spousal DIC eligibility? Must meet 3 qualifications: 1. Surviving spouse must show proper marital status to the deceased: a. Married to deceased for at least one year prior to death, OR had a child with the deceased during or before marriage (but must have gotten married eventually). i. VA will require a marriage certificate and proof of divorce if spouse was previously married. ii. DIC benefits cease upon survivor’s remarriage, but may be resumed if that remarriage ends. iii. VA may terminate DIC if surviving spouse is “shacking up.” (38 C.F.R. § 3.215) 2. Deceased spouse served in the armed forces AND:
a. Was discharged for any reason other than dishonorably, OR b. Died while in active service. 3. Cause of death must be related to military service: a. Died while in active service as long as it wasn’t due to misconduct (alcohol or drugs), OR i. Ex: Serviceman is killed instantly by a roadside bomb. b. Died as a result of a service-connected disability, OR i. Ex: Veteran is medically discharged in 2011 after being injured with shrapnel from a roadside bomb. Veteran succumbs to internal injuries resulting from bomb in 2012. c. Died after suffering with a service-connected or compensable disability for at least 5 years following discharge or at least 10 years immediately preceding death i. Ex: Veteran was medically discharged in 2006 and rated totally disabled until his death in 2012. Death may or may not have been directly related to service injuries. ii. Ex: Veteran was honorably discharged in 1970 but developed lung problems later in life as a result of wartime chemical exposure. Veteran is given total disability rating in 2000 and lived for 11 years before passing away in 2011. Death may or may not have been directly related to service injuries. 4. A full list of requirements and laws can be found in 38 U.S.C. §§ 1310-1318 How do I file for DIC benefits? • Submit Form 21-534 with a copy of your marriage license to the nearest VA Regional Office • The form and instructions can be found on the Department of Veteran Affairs’s website at: http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/vba-21-534-are.pdf Does it matter when I file? • If you file within one year of death, the benefits will be paid from date of death. • You can file any time after that, but the benefits will only be paid from the date of filing. What if my spouse had already applied for veteran benefits? • If they had a claim for benefits pending at death, the eligible survivor may be entitled to those “accrued benefits.” • Accrued Benefits claims must be filed within a year of the death. 38 C.F.R. § 3.1000(c). (Note: filing a claim for DIC benefits includes a claim for accrued benefits.) • Survivor must prove that the claim would, or should, have been granted. • Survivor can only rely on evidence in the Veteran’s claims file at death UNLESS the survivor requests to be substituted for the claimant. o Unlike a regular Accrued Benefits claim which starts over as a new claim and is limited to evidence on file at death, Substitution allows the eligible survivor to step into the Veteran’s shoes and continue the claim basically as if the Veteran were still alive. o To apply for a substitution, file Form 21-0847 within one year of the death. What if I’ve applied for Social Security benefits? • Filing for Social Security benefits is also a claim for VA and DIC benefits (if the SS claim was filed by the surviving spouse).
What other benefits may I be eligible for? In addition to DIC and Accrued Benefits, surviving spouses or dependents can apply and receive benefits that include: • Reimbursement of Burial Expenses, Plot Allowance, Headstone, and Flag – Form 21-530 (Application for Burial Benefits) • Home Loan Guaranty – Generally available to surviving spouse of qualified decedent - VA guarantees loans to purchase a dwelling or to refinance an existing home loan. • Death Pension - Payable to needy spouse and family of certain deceased wartime veterans – service connection not required • Education Benefits - Up to 45 months of education benefits to the un-remarried surviving spouse, or for children aged 18 to 26 o Dependents’ Educational Assistance, 38 U.S.C. Chapter 35. Requires a Separate Claim Form (22-5490) • Medical insurance - The Civilian Health & Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) provides coverage for unmarried surviving spouses and children of veterans who: o died of a service-connected disability, or was permanently and totally disabled due to a service-connected disability at the time of death, or o died in service in the line of duty, and the dependents are not eligible for Department of Defense TRICARE benefits. Who is eligible to receive a Death Pension? • Veterans who served during a time of war, their surviving spouses, and their children • Which veterans are eligible? Must have: o Served at least 90 days of active duty, AND o At least one day during a period of war, AND o Was discharged under any condition other than dishonorable o Have been permanently and totally disabled from something unrelated to military service (so long as not the result of the veteran’s willful misconduct.) • Which spouses are eligible? o Deceased spouse must meet veteran qualifications listed above, AND o Spouse was married to veteran for at least one year, or had a child during/prior to the marriage (but must have gotten married eventually), AND o Spouse must meet income restrictions or face offsets to award. • May be awarded to a child or children if there was no surviving spouse. What are common reasons for being denied benefits? • Death wasn’t due to service-connected injury or veteran wasn’t rated 100% disabled for at least 10 years prior to non-service connected death. • Death was due to misconduct. • Injury, disease, or death resulted from alcohol or drug abuse – even if that behavior was connected to PTSD. 38 U.S.C. § 105(a). • Lack of proper marriage credentials. • Problems with deceased spouse’s relationship to minor children (e.g., paternity or adoption) or situations involving spouses living apart.
Where can I get more information? • List of Regional Veteran Affairs Offices - http://www.vba.va.gov/VBA/benefits/offices.asp • Information about pension & benefits - http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/index.htm • Information for survivors of veterans - http://www.vba.va.gov/survivors/index.htm