Certain VA benefits may be available to dependents of living veterans or surviving family members of a veteran, but only if the veteran first meets the VA’s eligibility requirements. Then, in order to receive these additional benefits for family members, the family member must have a qualifying relationship to the veteran. The qualifying family relationships are: spouse, surviving spouse, child, surviving child, dependent parents, and surviving parents.
To be eligible for VA benefits as a spouse or as a surviving spouse, there must be a valid marriage with the veteran (depending on the laws of a state, the VA may recognize a common law marriage as a valid marriage). Typically, a valid marriage can be proven by simply submitting a written statement. A valid marriage can also be proven by submitting an application for benefits, such as VA Form 21- 526 (Veteran’s Application for Compensation or Pension) or VA Form 21-686c (Declaration of Status of Dependents). Either way, the veteran must list information about all prior marriages including: names of any prior spouses, how any prior marriages ended, and the date and place that any prior marriages terminated. In some circumstances, the VA might require the veteran to provide documents such as a marriage certificate in order to prove a valid marriage or alternatively, to prove that a prior marriage was validly dissolved. Also, surviving spouses need to be aware that in addition to proving a valid marriage, they may have to satisfy further requirements.
In order for a veteran’s child to qualify for VA benefits, the child must be legitimate, illegitimate, adopted, or a stepchild of the veteran. To prove the qualifying relationship, the veteran may have to provide a written statement with information about their child’s age and circumstances of birth. Also, the child must be:
- Under the age of 18;
- Over 18, but became permanently incapable of self-support before turning 18; or
- Over 18, under 23, and pursuing an education at a VA recognized institution.
(Note that even if a child is under the age of 18, they will no longer be eligible for VA benefits if they get married or enter the military service.)
Parents must show financial need by meeting certain income limits in order to qualify to receive VA benefits. In order for a veteran to receive additional benefits for a dependent parent, the veteran will have to show that their parent(s) are financially dependent on the veteran. A surviving parent will have to show income eligibility. Dependent parents and surviving parents will also have to prove their relationship to the veteran by submitting a certified copy of the veteran’s birth certificate showing that the claimant is, in fact, the veteran’s parent. If the veteran was adopted by the claimant, a certified copy of the adoption decree should be submitted.
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