Veterans can get VA benefits throughout their lives, but what happens to those benefits when the veteran passes away? In this blog post we are looking at the benefits available, like DIC, to those who are not veterans, but are the surviving family members of veterans.
Remember those who can get benefits while not being a veteran are 1) dependents of living veterans, and 2) surviving family members of deceased veterans. In previous posts, 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 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
- Other benefits (such as VA home loans and VA health 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 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 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.