Matthew: Hello, and welcome to the Hill and Ponton video blog. My name is Matthew Hill. This is Carol Ponton. We’re here to talk to you today about VA disability benefits. Specifically, we want to talk to you about survivors’ benefits. Once a veteran dies, his claim does not necessarily die if he has a qualifying survivor to step in his shoes to file a claim.
There are two kinds of benefits:
1. Accrued benefits
This is where the veteran had an ongoing claim and he died and wasn’t given the money he was entitled to. That’s where a survivor can step in and follow in his shoes and see that claim through.
2. DIC benefits
DIC stands for Dependency Indemnity Compensation. Essentially, that is an ongoing monthly compensation for a survivor.
The accrued benefit (the first part that I talked about) is just the lump sum the veteran would’ve been entitled to while he was pursuing his claim, but the DIC is an ongoing monthly benefit.
Most survivors are just lost once they lose their loved one because they’re veteran and they don’t quite understand which one is which. They both, I find, are to be important because the accrued benefits typically will end up being a large lump sum because the veteran has fought so long. But the ongoing benefits I think are equally important. There’s a money stream coming in.
Carol: For the rest of that person’s life.
Matthew: As far as who can be a survivor, the one that I think we all appreciate would be the spouse. Clearly, if the veteran dies and is married, that spouse does qualify. Also, children under circumstances would qualify, as well, if they’re a minor or if they’re in school or if they’re a disabled adult. All of those would qualify.
We see cases where the VA does not grant the DIC benefits and we appeal. Sometimes they won’t grant because the veteran was not service connected at all or they’ll say that the veteran’s disability was not causing the death. Two different situations there. The DIC standard is that the veteran’s service-connected disability either caused or contributed to the death.
Carol: That’s a big difference: caused or contributed to it. If it was part of the cause, not necessarily the main
cause, it still counts.
Matthew: The disability causing the death, which are typically easy, is when the veteran has service-connected heart and he has a heart attack and dies. But those aren’t the cases that the VA typically gets wrong. You can have that same veteran who had a heart problem but was not service connected for it and dies of the heart. But let’s say he had a psych problem – a PTSD problem – and the anxiety that that PTSD constantly put on his body would raise the cortisone levels in his body which would affect his heart and, in essence, contribute to the death.
Those are the kind of subtleties that the VA often railroads right over and denies, but those are extremely important because the law by Congress and the VA is very generous in this sense when it comes to survivors and them getting these benefits.
Carol: Right. They want to protect the survivors. Just because it looks to you like the main cause of the death was not service connected, if there are other causes, you need to look at all of them.
We find that sometimes people will have diabetes – they’ll have very severe diabetes – and they may die of a heart problem. Maybe the diabetes caused the heart problem. There are a number of ways your body is interconnected and you need to figure out what all caused the veteran to die.
You’re entitled to DIC benefits if the veteran was service connected at 100% for ten years. If they were service connected for their knee and back and that didn’t cause the death, you’re still entitled because they were service connected for ten years.
Matthew: And the rating was 100%.
Carol: That may be where there’s another appeal. Maybe the appeal for accrued benefits is asking for 100% to go back. Say the veteran has only been disabled at 100% for six years but part of his appeal is asking for those benefits to go back for more years, which would give the veteran the ten years at 100%. Then you’re automatically entitled to the DIC benefits.
These are complex issues, but you just need to know that the VA is very generous in what they’re offering the veteran and their survivors. So make sure you know what you have and pursue the claims that you have.
Matthew: As she said, pursue the old claims. It would seem that the accrued benefits would be very separate from the DIC benefits, but as Carol said, they can be one and the same.
The last little thing that I wanted to come back to is what I said when the veteran is not service connected for anything. That doesn’t matter. If the disability caused the veteran’s death and it should’ve been service connected, back to the heart disability, if a veteran died ten years ago of a heart disability and the veteran was in Vietnam, the wife should be entitled to benefits now.
Carol: Remember, back then they didn’t service connect the heart, but now it’s automatically service connected if the veteran was in Vietnam. All of these cases where you may not have applied or you weren’t going to win if you apply are the ones that should be pursued.
Matthew: Thanks for joining us today. We hope that this was informative for you. We look forward to seeing you next time.