VA benefits are available to family members of the veteran when they are dependents of living veterans, or surviving family members of deceased veterans. The different categories of qualifying family relationships are: 1) spouse 2) surviving spouse 3) child 4) surviving child 5) dependent parent 6) surviving parent. In the last blog post we talked about spouses. This blog post will look at qualifying parents and children. Remember, the family member is only entitled to benefits through the veteran, not in their own right.
For a parent to receive benefits as dependents or as a surviving parent, they have to meet two requirements. First, they have to have a parental relationship to the veteran. Second, the VA considers their financial situation. If the veteran is trying to get additional compensation for their parents, the parents have to be financially dependent on the veteran. If the parents are attempting to get DIC benefits, they have to meet the income eligibility requirements.
For a child to qualify for benefits as a dependent child or surviving child of the veteran, there are also two requirements.
- The child must be either:
- A biological child
- An adopted child, or
- A stepchild of the veteran.
- The child must be either:
- Of qualifying age: under 18, or between 18 and 23 if pursuing education, OR
- A helpless child: permanently incapable of self-support before the age of 18.
To prove a child is the biological child of the veteran, the VA usually only requires a written statement with the child’s age, date of birth, and social security number. It is rare that the VA requires additional proof, but if they do it will likely be in the form of: a copy of public record of birth; a copy of baptism record; an official report from the service department that the birth occurred while the veteran was in service; an affidavit or certified statement from a physician (or midwife) attendant at birth; a copy of a family record properly certified by a notary public; or an affidavit or certified statement of a disinterested person who can attest to personal knowledge of the child’s biological relationship to the parents.
If the veteran was married when the child was born and the veteran is the child’s biological parent, no additional proof of the relationship (other than those documents) is required. If the veteran is the child’s biological mother and the child was born outside of a marriage, the same rule applies. But if the veteran is the child’s biological father and the child was born outside of a marriage, the VA will look at each individual case to determine the evidence to establish the relationship. Evidence that may be submitted includes:
- A signed statement from the veteran acknowledging the relationship,
- Evidence that the veteran has been identified as the child’s father by judicial decree,
- Birth certificate listing the veteran as the child’s father, or
- Any other evidence naming the veteran as the child’s father and that the veteran knew of the relationship.
A child can also be the veteran’s adopted child, as shown by evidence that the veteran legally adopted the child before they turned 18. Proof of this would be a copy of the adoption decree or of the adoptive placement agreement. A child that is the biological child of the veteran’s spouse, former spouse, or surviving spouse may qualify for benefits as the veteran’s stepchild. The marital and biological relationship would have to be established, and the veteran must show that the child currently resides in the veteran’s household. If it is for DIC benefits, the surviving spouse must show that the child resided in the veteran’s household at the time of the veteran’s death.
The last option is what the VA calls a helpless child. This is the veteran’s biological child, adopted child, or stepchild who is permanently incapable of self-support before they turn 18, either because of a physical or mental disability. The one claiming benefits for the helpless child should submit medical or psychiatric repots and lay evidence to show the child had the incapacity before turning 18 and qualifies as a helpless child. Once the child is considered a helpless child, they remain under that status as long as they are not married, employed, or capable of self-support.
The veteran’s child must be either younger than 18, or between the ages of 18 and 23 if they are “pursuing a course of education or training at an approved educational institution.” The VA determines what educational institutions are approved, usually a permanent organization that offers courses of instruction to a group of students who meet its enrollment criteria, meaning schools, colleges, academies, seminaries, technical institutes, and universities. A home school program only counts as an approved educational institution if it operates in compliance with state attendance laws. Schools outside the US may be approved if the program is offered by an institution recognized as standard and accredited.
Now that we have covered who may receive benefits in addition to the veteran, we will next look at what benefits are available to these qualifying individuals.