We have been looking at benefits available to individuals who are not veterans, particularly the family members of deceased veterans. In past posts, we talked about one type of benefit available, DIC benefits. Today, we will be looking at accrued benefits.
Accrued benefits are available when a VA claimant dies while their claim for benefits is pending. Survivors of veterans who died on or after October 10, 2008, are allowed to step into the shoes of the deceased VA claimant. This is done through a “substitution” process, so the survivor does not need to actually apply for accrued benefits through a VA regional office. Filing for substitution is more beneficial to a survivor of a deceased VA claimant than filing a claim for accrued benefits because the rules tend to be more favorable. If a VA claimant dies before October 10, 2008, without having established that they are entitled to VA benefits, the claim dies with them, so the survivor will not be able to step into the claimant’s shoes through substitution. In that case, the survivor will have to file for accrued benefits.
Accrued benefits can be sought for any monthly VA benefit (such as service-connected compensation benefits) that was due and unpaid at the time of the individual’s death, based on the evidence in the file. Accrued benefits are not considered death benefits. Accrued benefits are benefits owed to the veteran (or VA claimant) before they died. Therefore, it is technically the veteran/original VA claimant that is entitled to the benefit, not the survivor.
Who is eligible?
When a veteran dies, accrued benefits are payable in full to their surviving spouse; if there is no surviving spouse, then the veteran’s surviving children are entitled to the accrued benefits payable in equal shares to each eligible child. If there is neither a surviving spouse nor child, then the surviving dependent parents would receive the benefits (also in equal shares). There is also the person who paid for the veteran’s last sickness or burial that may be reimbursed through accrued benefits.
What are the requirements?
A survivor is entitled to accrued benefits if 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’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 death, or
- Entitlement is shown from an existing rating or decision
- The survivor filed a claim for accrued benefits within one year of death, AND
- Evidence in the file or in the VA’s possession at death shows that the deceased veteran was entitled to the benefit.
The survivor is not entitled to accrued benefits unless there was an existing rating, decision, or claim for VA benefits pending at the time of death. The general rule is that where the appeal period has not yet expired, the case is still pending. If there was no claim pending at the time of the veteran’s death, and no existing decision shows entitlement to benefits, then the survivor is not entitled to accrued benefits.
There has to be VA benefits pending on the date of death, meaning a claim filed with the VA that had not yet been finally adjudicated by the VA on or before the date of death. This includes a deceased beneficiary’s CUE claim in a prior rating decision; any new and material evidence must have been in the VA’s possession on or before the date of the beneficiary’s death. If the claimant or the VA raises CUE, the claim is treated as if it were pending on the date of death. And if there was to be a VA re-adjudication of the veteran’s claim based on a change in the law or administrative issue, but the veteran died prior to the re-adjudication, the VA would be required to re-adjudicate the claim.
In summary, there has to be a pending claim for accrued benefits, and a claim is pending when:
- There was not yet a decision on a claim that the veteran filed before dying, or
- A decision was made before the veteran’s death but it had not yet become final when the veteran died.
This includes situations where the claim was denied by the VA regional office but the appeal period had not yet expired when the veteran died.
When do I file?
A claim for accrued benefits must be filed within one year of the death of the veteran (or claimant) who has the claim pending. Any time a qualifying family member files a claim for DIC or death benefits within one year of the death, the VA is supposed to also consider if they are entitled to accrued benefits. To file, you can use VA Form 21-534 “Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation or Death Pension by Surviving Spouse or Child,” and if you are a surviving parent, you can use VA Form 21-535 “Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation by Parent.”