VA benefits are sometimes available to dependents or surviving family members of a veteran. Other times, the veteran may be entitled to additional compensation based on having dependents. Whether or not these benefits are available depends on whether there is a qualifying relationship with the veteran. When the situation concerns VA benefits going to dependents or surviving family members of the veteran, it is important to remember that the dependent or surviving family member is not entitled to VA benefits in their own right. Rather they are entitled to VA benefits through the veteran.
Importance of Establishing the Relationship
In regards to VA policies, the term “relationship” refers to an individual’s legal status with respect to the veteran. For example, is the individual the veteran’s child, or have the individual and the veteran met the requirements for a legal marriage? Without establishing the relationship of an individual (dependent or surviving family member) to a veteran, the VA will not be able to determine entitlement to benefits. VA benefits that require a relationship with the veteran to be established include:
- The VA may pay additional disability compensation to a veteran for his/her dependents if the veteran has a combined disability rating of at least 30%.
- The VA may pay Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) to a veteran’s surviving spouse or surviving dependent children.
- A surviving spouse in receipt of DIC benefits, may receive additional DIC for any of his/her children that the VA recognizes as children of the veteran on whose death the DIC award was based.
- The VA considers the existence of dependents and the amount of dependents’ income as a factor when determining a veteran’s entitlement to pension and when determining survivors’ pension.
Importance of Establishing Dependency
When the VA considers whether an individual is dependent on the veteran, their only concern is whether that individual is financially dependent on the veteran. In some situations, the VA will assume that financial dependency exists, while in other situations the VA will require proof of financial dependency.
The VA will assume that financial dependency exits (no proof of financial dependency needed) in the following circumstances:
- The VA determines that a marital relationship exists between a veteran and his/her spouse
- The VA determines that an individual is a child of the veteran.
In both of these circumstances, the VA assumes that the spouse and/or child of a veteran is financially dependent on that veteran. On the other hand, the VA will require proof of financial dependency when:
- A veteran is seeking additional compensation for a parent that they are claiming as a dependent (keep in mind that in this scenario, the veteran must also have a combined rating of at least 30%).
- A parent of a veteran whose death was service related is seeking DIC benefits.
Applying for Dependency Benefits
The first step in the process requires a veteran (or in DIC cases, the surviving claimant) to submit a VA Form 21-686c, Declaration of Status of Dependents. This form will ask for information such as:
- Current and previous marriages of the veteran (names, Social Security Numbers, how the marriage was ended, and when/where the marriage was ended)
- Current and previous marriage of the veteran’s current spouse (names, Social Security Numbers, how the marriage was ended, and when/where the marriage was ended)
- Name, date and place of birth, social security number of any unmarried children of the veteran
- Whether the veteran’s child is biological, adopted, or a stepchild.
- Whether the veteran’s child is seriously disabled (when this is marked, the VA will require proof that the child became permanently unable to support him/herself prior to reaching the age of 18 along with evidence showing the nature and extent of the physical or mental impairment).
- When any of the children listed on the form do not live with the veteran, the address and name of the person the child lives with must also be provided.
When the Regional Office (RO) receives a VA Form 686c from a veteran, they will determine whether the form is “substantially complete.” A form is “substantially complete” if it has the signature of the claimant (usually the veteran), provides the claimant’s name, provides the claimant’s relationship to the veteran (if the claimant is someone other than the veteran), and contains enough information for the RO to identify the benefit that is being asked for.
If the form is not “substantially complete,” the VA will send the form back with instructions to complete the missing information. The VA must also notify the claimant that benefits based on the form will not be paid unless the form is returned with the completed information within one year. Even if the VA receives a form that is “substantially complete,” they may still want additional information. If that is the case, the VA will call the claimant or send a letter requesting the information. Any requested information should be provided by the veteran/claimant within 30 days. Once the information is received by the VA, or once the 30 days has expired (whichever occurs first), the VA will make a decision to grant or deny dependency benefits based on the evidence they have.