Our blogs often focus on getting veterans the benefits that they deserve, and that makes sense. Disability: it’s all we do. However, it is not all that often that we take the time to talk about benefits available to non-veterans. Which again, makes sense, none of us want to think about what happens when we lose a loved one, but the reality is that it does happen.
So what are the options available to the survivor of a deceased veteran?
There are three main paths for a survivor to be awarded VA benefits: accrued benefits, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), and death pension. The difference between them being that accrued benefits are owed to the veteran prior to his death or become due because of a decision made on a pending claim, DIC is paid to a qualifying survivor for a veterans service-connected death, and death pension is a needs-based program for qualifying survivors showing financial need.
Today we will focus on Accrued Benefits.
Accrued benefits are available when a claimant dies during the pendency of their VA claim. Survivors of a veteran who died on or after October 10, 2008, are allowed to “step into the shoes” of the deceased veteran. This is accomplished through “substitution” so that the survivor does not have to apply for the benefits through a VA regional office (RO). In effect, substitution continues the deceased veteran’s claim as if the veteran himself was still pursuing the benefits.
However, if the veteran passed away prior to October 10, 2008, and had not yet established service connection for their disability, the claim dies with them. Thus, the survivor will not be able to step into the claimant’s shoes through substitution, and the survivor must file for accrued benefits.
Who is eligible for Accrued Benefits?
When a veteran passes away, accrued benefits are payable in full to their surviving spouse, if the veteran was not survived by a spouse, then the veteran’s surviving children are eligible for payment of accrued benefits in equal shares. If there is neither a surviving spouse or child, then the payments can be made to surviving dependent parents.
What are the requirements for Payment?
A survivor is entitled to accrued benefits when they meet the following requirements:
- The accrued benefit claimant is the surviving spouse, child or parent of the deceased
- Or the claimant paid the expenses of the deceased veteran’s last sickness and burial;
- A claim for VA benefits was pending when the potential VA beneficiary died, or
- The VA benefits were awarded but unpaid at the time of death, or
- Entitlement is shown from an existing decision.
- The survivor filed a claim for accrued benefits within one year from the date of death, AND
- Evidence in the file or in the VA’s possession at death shows the veteran was entitled to the benefit.
Unless there is an existing rating, decision, or claim for benefits pending at the time of death, a survivor is not entitled to accrued benefits. Generally, a claim is considered to be pending if the appeal period has not yet run.
To summarize, a claim must be pending at the time of the veteran’s death for accrued benefits to be paid. A claim is considered to be pending when:
- There is no decision on a claim that the veteran filed prior to passing, OR
- A decision was made before the veteran’s death, but it had not yet become final (appeal period expired) when the veteran died.
When to File for Accrued Benefits
To file for accrued benefits, the VA must receive the claim within one year of the death of the veteran (or claimant) whose claim was pending. When any qualifying member files a claim for DIC or death benefits within one year of death, the VA is required to also consider if the individual is entitled to accrued benefits. To file, you can use VA Form 21-534EZ “Application for DIC, Death Pension and/or Accrued Benefits.”