Survivor’s Benefits – How to Navigate the Complex VA System after a Veteran’s Death Part 1
The oftentimes frustrating and confusing VA claims process gets even more complex when dealing with survivor’s benefits. Today’s post is going to cover who is eligible for benefits after the veteran dies, and what types of benefits are available.
In order to understand who a qualifying survivor is, it is important to first understand the general rule that when the veteran dies, the claim dies with them unless there is a survivor. So, who is a survivor?
- Surviving Spouse: First, a survivor can be a spouse of the veteran at the time of the veteran’s death. Additionally, the surviving spouse must have lived with the veteran continuously from the date of marriage to the date of the veteran’s death. There are however, exceptions to the rule that the surviving spouse must live continuously with the veteran. For example, when the separation of the spouse and the veteran is due to the misconduct of, or caused by, the veteran without fault of the spouse. Also, the surviving spouse must not have remarried, or represent that they have remarried another person.
- Surviving Dependent Child: Second, a survivor can be a dependent child of the veteran. Dependent child means the surviving child must be under 18, permanently incapable of self-support, or is under the age of 23 and is pursuing approved education. A child of the veteran includes, but isn’t limited to: a biological child, legally adopted child, a stepchild who is part of the veteran’s household.
- Surviving Dependent Parent: Third, a survivor can be a dependent parent of the veteran. A dependent parent means that the parent was financially dependent on the veteran. Evidence of financial dependence must be submitted before a parent will qualify as a surviving dependent parent.
Once eligibility is determined, the next thing to understand is what types of benefits the survivor is entitled to. Potential survivor’s benefits include the following:
- DIC Benefits: DIC stands for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. This is a monthly benefit paid to a qualifying survivor. A surviving spouse would be first in line to receive DIC benefits, and if the surviving spouse has dependent children, they will receive additional compensation. In addition to meeting the qualifying relationship standards, the veteran’s death must be due to a service-connected condition in order for a survivor to receive DIC benefits. Note that, a claim for DIC is, by law, automatically considered as a claim for death pension and accrued benefits (each of which are explained below).
- Accrued Benefits: Accrued benefits are defined as monthly payments that the veteran was entitled to receive at the time of his death. Evidence must exist at the time of the veteran’s death that shows the veteran was entitled to receive benefits. For example, if a veteran receives a rating decision that awards benefits, but is not actually paid those benefits before death, a qualifying survivor would be entitled to the benefits that should have been paid to the veteran. Accrued benefits are not considered death benefits; they are benefits that are owed to the veteran. One of the most important things to remember about accrued benefits is that an application for the benefits must be filed within one year of the death of the veteran.
- Death Pension: Unlike DIC benefits and accrued benefits, death pension is a needs passed program. That means that a qualifying survivor must show financial need before they are entitled to receive death pension. Additionally, the veteran must have met the requirements set forth in the VA’s definition of an eligible veteran. A claim for death pension is considered a claim for DIC and accrued benefits.
- Dependent’s Educational Assistance: This is available to a surviving spouse or a surviving dependent child when the veteran died of service-connected disability, or when the veteran died while suffering from a service-connected disability that the VA had determined was total and permanent in nature.
- Home Loan Guaranty Benefits: In addition to the above monthly benefits, spouses of certain deceased veterans can qualify for VA home loan programs. In order for the spouse to qualify, the veteran, at the time of death, must have been in active military service, died of a service-connected disability, or was receiving or entitled to receive compensation for a service-connected disability rated totally disability for certain periods of time.