Veterans should be aware that once you reach a service-connected disability rating of 30% or more, you can also claim benefits for your dependents. A “dependent” can include a spouse, child, stepchild, or a dependent parent or parents. It is a claim that belongs to the veteran and, if granted, the payment is added on to the veteran’s monthly benefit payment. (It is not paid separately to the spouse or child.)
We recommend to our clients that they file a Form 21-686c (Declaration of Status of Dependents) early in their appeal process even if they have not yet reached a 30% rating. That way, when the VA hopefully grants their pending disability claims/appeals, the information regarding the dependents will already be in your VA Claims File and can be included in the award more quickly. We are happy to provide our clients with the form and assist with filing it with the VA. (Form 21-686c )
Generally, the VA will rely upon the information you provide regarding your marriage as long as all the required information is provided. In some instances, it may require proof of marriage (such as a copy of your marriage certificate). The VA is required to accept your statement as to marriage, birth, divorce, etc, so long as your statement includes:
- the date (month and year) and place of the event;
- the full name and relationship of the other person to the claimant;
- and, where the claimant’s dependent child does not reside with the claimant, the name and address of the person who has custody of the child.
- In addition, a claimant must provide the social security number of any dependent on whose behalf he or she is seeking benefits.
To qualify as a child or surviving child for VA purposes, the child must be a biological child, adopted child, or a stepchild of a veteran. The child must also be unmarried. Finally, the child must either be of a qualifying age (under the age of 18 or between the ages of 18 and 23 if pursuing a course of education) or must become permanently incapable of self-support before reaching the age of 18. In order to continue receiving dependency benefits for a child between the ages of 18 and 23 who is in school, the veteran must routinely complete a Form 21-674 – Request for Approval of School Attendance and file it with the VA.
A child who is the biological child of a veteran’s spouse, former spouse, or surviving spouse may be qualified for benefits as a veteran’s stepchild. In addition to establishing the marital and biological relationship (such as with a marriage certificate of the child’s parent with the veteran plus the child’s birth certificate), a veteran must show that the child is currently a resident in the veteran’s household Such evidence could include proof of which parent claims the stepchild as a dependent on IRS forms.
The term “parent” means a biological father or mother, or adoptive father or mother, or a person (i.e., foster parent, stepparent, etc.) who for a period of not less than one year stood in the relationship of a parent to a veteran at any time before his or her entry into active service. To qualify as a dependent parent of a veteran, the parent’s income, and net worth must be provided to the VA and show that it is not sufficient to meet basic needs. The income and net worth can also be offset by showing high expenses (such as medical care not covered by or reimbursed by insurance). To claim a parent, the veteran must complete the VA Form 21-509 – Statement of Dependency of Parent(s).
Changes in Status
It is the veteran’s responsibility to keep accurate information regarding your dependents on file with the VA. You will need to notify the VA if your marital status changes or there is a death in the family involving one of your dependents.
To have a grant of dependency benefits go back to the effective date of your granted 30% disability, you must file a Form 21-686c within one year of the (at least 30%) disability grant. 38 U.S.C. § 5110(f) Otherwise, the effective date would likely be the date you later provided the necessary information to the VA in the form of a claim.
Though you might think a Dependency claim would be granted quickly, unfortunately, those claims have also been subject to backlogs at the VA. As advocates for veterans, at times our firm has had to push the Regional Offices to grant these claims, too. It is undoubtedly best to get a fully completed Form 21-686c on file with the VA sooner than later.