Veterans 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:
- Surviving spouse
- Surviving child
- Dependent parent
- Surviving parent.
In the last blog post we talked about spouses. This blog post will look at benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs to qualifying parents and children. Remember, the family member is only entitled to benefits through the veteran, not in their own right.
VA Benefits for the Parent of a Child
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.
VA Benefits for Children of Veterans
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.
What if the veteran’s child is adopted?
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.
What is “helpless” according to the VA?
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 reports 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.
Benefits for Children of Vietnam Veterans
Studies have shown that veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange are more likely to have children with birth defects, and the VA recognizes this link as well. Therefore, in certain cases, the child of a Vietnam veteran may be entitled to disability benefits in their own right.
Eligibility for Children of Vietnam Veterans
Depending on the birth defect, children of Vietnam veterans must meet several requirements to receive benefits.
For Spina Bifida
VA benefits apply to “all forms and manifestations of spina bifida, except spina bifida occulta.” To receive benefits for spina bifida, the child’s biological mother or father must have served in:
- The Republic of Vietnam or in Thailand for any length of time between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975, OR
- A unit in or near the DMZ for any length of time between September 1, 1967, and August 31, 1971
AND the child must have been:
- Diagnosed with a form of spina bifida other than spina bifida occulta, AND
- Conceived after the parent first entered the Republic of Vietnam, Thailand, or the DMZ during the qualifying time periods listed above.
Unlike claimants for other VA disability benefits, a claimant for spina bifida benefits will not have to undergo a VA medical examination unless the spina bifida diagnosis is suspect. If a potential claimant has a diagnosis of spina bifida occulta, it may be helpful to seek another medical opinion.
For Other Birth Defects
According to the VA, children of Vietnam veterans with the following birth defects may be eligible for benefits:
- Cleft lip and cleft palate
- Congenital heart disease
- Congenital talipes equinovarus (clubfoot)
- Esophageal and intestinal atresia
- Hallerman-Streiff syndrome
- Hip dysplasia
- Hirschprung’s disease (congenital megacolon)
- Hydrocephalus due to aqueductal stenosis
- Imperforate anus
- Neural tube defects
- Poland syndrome
- Pyloric stenosis
- Syndactyly (fused digits)
- Tracheoesophageal fistula
- Undescended testicle
- Williams syndrome
Note: These are some of the birth defects that children of Vietnam veterans may have that the VA covers. However, it’s not a complete list, and the VA may cover other conditions as well. The VA does not cover conditions caused by birth-related injuries, family disorders, or fetal or neonatal infirmities.
To be eligible for benefits, children with the above birth defects must meet the following criteria:
- The child’s biological mother served in Vietnam any time from January 9, 1962, through May 7, 1975, AND
- The child was conceived after the mother first entered the Republic of Vietnam during the time period listed above.
Applying for Benefits
To apply for benefits, claimants must fill out VA Form 21-0304, Application for Benefits for a Qualifying Veteran’s Child Born with Disabilities. If a child is over 18, they must sign the form for themselves.
VA Benefits for Non-Veterans and DIC Claims
Former service members can get VA benefits throughout their lives due to medical conditions that were service connected to active duty, but what happens to those benefits when the veteran passes away? As discussed earlier, there are certain benefits available to a veteran’s family due to the veteran’s military service in the US armed forces.
Remember those who can get benefits while not being a veteran are:
- Dependents of living veterans, AND
- Surviving family members of deceased veterans
Earlier in this blog, we talked about how to qualify as a family member in order to be eligible to receive benefits. Now we are going to talk about what benefits are available. There are several different VA benefits available to a deceased veteran’s surviving family members.
For example, when a veteran was receiving VA disability compensation (or pension), the surviving spouse may be entitled to the benefits the veteran would have received the month the veteran died. If the veteran’s death was service connected, the survivor may be eligible to receive an amount to cover the cost of burial and funeral expenses. There are also education benefits, VA home loans, and VA health care that may also be available to survivors.
The survivor benefits available can be grouped into the following categories:
- Dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC)- monthly VA benefits
- Accrued benefits- benefits based on claims filed by the veteran when they were alive
- Death compensation
- Death pension and/or survivors pension
- Other benefits (such as VA loans, VA home loans and VA health care/medical care)
First we will look at Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, or DIC benefits, which are death benefits based on a service-connected condition. If you qualify as a surviving spouse, child, or parent, you can apply for monthly benefits from the VA if the cause of the veteran’s death was service-connected
Where the veteran’s death was service connected, there are two types of benefits the VA pays to survivors: dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC), and death compensation. DIC benefits are for veterans who died after 1957 (specifically on or after January 1, 1957). For veterans who died before 1957, they would receive death compensation. A claimant can still receive DIC benefits instead of death compensation if they choose to (but once you choose DIC, it can’t be changed). Because DIC benefits are more common, that is what we will be covering.
Who receives it?
The surviving spouse is the first one to receive DIC benefits, but if there are surviving children, the VA will generally increase the spouse’s benefits to compensate the children as well. If there is no eligible surviving spouse, the surviving children may apply for DIC benefits.
How do you apply?
To apply for DIC, you need to fill out and submit VA Form 21-534 if you are a surviving spouse or child. If you are a surviving parent, you fill out VA Form 21-535.
When do you apply?
There is no time limit for filing a DIC claim, but there is an advantage to filing within one year of the veteran’s death. If you file within one year of the veteran’s death, you will be entitled to retroactive benefits (past due benefits) dating back to the first day of month after the month in which the veteran died. So if the veteran died May 5th, and you file within one year of that date, you will be entitled to retroactive benefits as of June 1st. If you do not file within that one year, you will receive benefits dating back to the month after your claim was received. In order to get your earliest possible effective date for your DIC benefits, file a claim within one year of the veteran’s death.
When you file a claim for benefits, the VA is supposed to automatically consider whether you qualify for any other benefits, such as for death pension or accrued benefits, in addition to DIC benefits. So if you file a claim for DIC benefits at the VA regional office but the VA does not decide on your entitlement to death pension, your effective date for death pension would be the date you originally filed for DIC, and the same is true regardless of which benefit you apply for first.
How do you get DIC benefits?
There are two ways to become entitled to DIC:
- You show that the veteran’s death resulted in whole or in major part from a medical condition that is service-connected. This means that if the principal or contributory cause of death is a service-connected disability, entitlement to DIC is established.
- You show that the veteran had a service-connected total disability that was totally disabling for some period of time before the veteran died. Most of the time, the disability must have been totally disabling for the last ten years of the veteran’s life.
We will explore each of these two concepts more closely in the next post.
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