Who Qualifies as a VA Dependent? Benefits for Family Members and How to Apply

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If you are the spouse, child or parent of a service member, you share in that individual’s military service and sacrifice.

Once the loved one leaves active military service and becomes a Veteran, they qualify for VA benefits, as well as their dependents.

If the family member dies from a service connected disability, dependents get additional benefits.

VA dependent benefits include everything from income benefits to education and medical support.

It is important to understand who is entitled to these benefits and what exactly they can receive, so we’ve created a helpful guide!

What is a Dependent?

A dependent is defined as a family member who relies on an active duty service member or Veteran financially and meets certain criteria. 

Dependents can be:

  • a spouse
  • unmarried children (up to 18 or 23 if enrolled in school)
  • parents in the Veteran’s direct care whose net worth and income are below the limit by law

This Veteran must have a service connected disability with a rating at or above 30 percent or must have retired from active duty.

How Do I Add Eligible Dependents to My Monthly VA Benefits?

There are different Veteran Affairs forms for each type of dependent.

  • Spouse – VA Form 21-686c: Declaration of Status of Dependents 
  • Children (under 18) – VA Form 21-686c: Declaration of Status of Dependents
  • Children (18-23, enrolled in school) – VA Form 21-674: Request for Approval of School Attendance 
  • Parents – VA Form 21P-509: Statement of Dependency of Parent(s)
  • If the status changes of any of the dependents, you will need to fill out – VA Form 21-0538: Mandatory Verification of Dependents 

What Monthly Benefits Are Available?

Many monthly benefits are available for Veterans with a service connected disability rating of 30% or more. 

  • The Department of Veterans Affairs increases compensation available depending on disability rating
  • There are special benefits available to 100 Percent Disabled Veteran Spouses
  • At death, a surviving spouse and other dependents become eligible for Dependency Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefit, available to spouses, children, and parents
  • Education (Chapter 35)provides up to 36 months of full-time or equivalent VA education benefits to spouses and children of most 100% service-connected disabled Veterans. Benefits include Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA), Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship, and the Montgomery GI Bill. They can help pay for programs like:
    • College program
    • Business/Technical School
    • High School/GED
    • Independent Study/Distance Learning
    • Correspondence Courses
    • Apprenticeships/On-the-Job Training
    • Remedial/refresher training
    • Costs for tests and licensure/certifications
  • Medical (CHAMPVA) benefit provides medical care for a spouse and dependent children of 100% service-connected disabled Veterans. It covers services and supplies.
Bonus VA Benefits for Dependents

Conditions for Adding Dependent to Benefits

There are several criteria for adding dependents to VA benefits.

They include:

  1.  You get married
  2. You have a baby or adopt a child
  3. ​Your child is attending school between the ages of 18-23
  4.  Your child becomes permanently disabled before the age of 18
  5. You become responsible for a dependent parent whose income falls below a certain threshold 

The 30% Rule

38 USCS § 1135 states, in part that: “any veteran entitled to compensation … whose disability is rated not less than 30 percent, shall be entitled to additional monthly compensation for dependents ….” 

This means that in order to be eligible to receive dependent benefits for your children, you must have a combined disability rating of at least 30 percent. 

When you hit this number, you are eligible to file a VA Form 686-c requesting authorization for your dependents and beginning your claim to receive compensation based on how many dependents you have. 

Normally, when you receive an overall rating at or above 30%, the RO will notify you of your possible eligibility to file for Dependent benefits. 

(The notification is often listed on your Notice of Action).

Education and Training Benefits

Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA)

Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) provides assistance for degree and certificate programs, apprenticeships, correspondence courses, On-the-Job Training (OJT), and other programs.

You may be eligible for DEA benefits if you are the spouse of a child of a:

  • Veteran who died or is permanently and totally (P&T) disabled as the result of a service connected disability
  • Veteran who died from any cause while a permanent and total (P&T) service connected disability existed
  • Servicemember who died during active military service
  • Servicemember missing in action or captured in the line of duty by a hostile force
  • Servicemember forcibly detained or interned in the line of duty by a foreign government or power
  • Servicemember who is hospitalized or receiving outpatient treatment for a permanent and total (P&T) service connected disability and is likely to be discharged for that disability

The program offers up to 45 months of education benefits. Children are usually the ones to get the most use, between the ages of 18 and 26.

If you are a spouse, benefits generally end 10 years from the date VA finds you eligible.

If VA rated the veteran permanently and totally (P&T) disabled with an effective date of three years from discharge, or if the Servicemember died on active duty, a spouse will be eligible for benefits for twenty (20) years from the effective date of the rating or date of death.

Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship

The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship provides children with financial support for tuition and fees, books and supplies, and housing.

You may be eligible for up to 36 months of Fry Scholarship benefits if you are the child of a Servicemember who died during active duty after September 10, 2001.

You must use your benefits between your 18th and 33rd birthdays.

You may still be eligible if you are married.

You are not eligible for Fry Scholarship benefits if you are serving or have served in the Armed Forces and are eligible for benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty, Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve, and/or the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP), unless you relinquish your eligibility to those benefits.

If you are also eligible to receive Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program (DEA) benefits, you may not use both benefit programs at the same time.

You may use up to a total of 48 months of benefits between the two programs.

Home Loan Guaranty

VA-guaranteed loans are provided by private lenders, such as banks, and mortgage companies, and not by VA directly.

You must present a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) from VA that verifies your spouse’s military service to the lender to qualify for a VA-backed loan.

Burial Benefits

VA provides the following burial and memorial benefits:

  • Inscribed headstone or marker at any cemetery, or a medallion to affix to one that is privately purchased.
  • Burial allowance to partially reimburse the burial and funeral costs of an eligible veteran.
  • Presidential Memorial Certificate (PMC), which is an engraved certificate signed by the current president, to honor the memory of an honorably discharged deceased veteran.
  • American flag to drape the casket of a veteran.

Other Benefits for Dependents

  • Educational and Vocational Counseling
  • Beneficiary Financial Counseling Service
  • Bereavement Counseling
  • Civil Service Preference
  • Commissary and Exchange Privileges

Frequently Asked Questions

Will I be paid back to the date when my spouse and I first got married?

If it has been more than one year since you got married or had/adopted a child, the Department of Veterans Affairs may not pay you back to the date of the marriage, birth, or adoption.

Instead, they may only pay from the date they received the claim for additional disability for the dependent, or in some cases, up to a year before this date. 

Can Adopted Children Be Considered Dependents for VA Disability Benefits?

Yes, adopted children are recognized by the VA as dependents for disability benefits purposes. Just like biological children, adopted children can qualify a veteran for additional compensation. The VA requires proper documentation proving the legal adoption to ensure the child’s eligibility. It’s essential to provide the necessary paperwork promptly to ensure timely addition of the adopted child as a dependent and any related compensation adjustments.

What is the age limit for VA dependent benefits?

Children must generally use the benefit when they are younger than 18, or between the ages 18 and 23, if attending school. Certain adult children who become seriously disabled prior the age 18 may also be entitled to DIC.

How Do I Know If I’m Already Receiving Dependent Benefits?

You can check your VA disability benefits easily online. When you log in, you can check your dependents under your profile.

If they are listed, then that means you should be receiving benefits on their behalf.

How do I determine what the effective date of dependent benefits will be?

Pursuant to 38 C.F.R. § 3.410(b)(ii), an award of additional compensation payable to a veteran based on a dependent will be effective on the date notice is received of the dependent’s existence, if evidence is received within one year of the Department of Veterans Affairs request. 

What this means is that once you are eligible to apply for dependent benefits, it is important to file Form 686-c as soon as possible, in order to notify the VA that you have dependent’s and in turn preserve your effective date to receive the compensation.

If you have dependent children or parents that were alive and eligible on the effective date of your qualifying disability, or you were legally married on that date, then you may be able to obtain increased compensation for those dependents based on the same effective date.

How do I file a claim? 

Qualified veterans meeting the eligibility criteria, can submit an electronic dependency claim. The VA may be able to decide about your claim in as little as 48 hours.

I’ve submitted it but haven’t heard an answer about my claim?

It can sometimes take 7-10 business days to receive an answer about your claim. If you haven’t received any information at that point, you can contact the VA directly at 1-800-827-1000. They operate Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 9:00 pm ET.

When will I start receiving benefits if I’m approved?

The VA will begin paying you, and your benefits will begin to be available within two weeks after your claim is approved.

What’s VA survivors pension benefit? Who is eligible for VA survivors pension benefit?

Survivors Pension, formerly known as death pension, is a tax-free benefit paid to low-income, un-remarried surviving spouse or unmarried children of a deceased veteran.

You may be eligible if:

  • If the deceased veteran was discharged under other than dishonorable conditions
  • They served 90 days or more of active duty, with at least one day during a time of war
  • Your countable income for VA purposes is below the amount listed in the Survivors Pension Rate Table
  • Your net work meets the limits set for the Community Spouse Resource Allowance (CSRA) established by Congress for Medicaid
  • You are one of the following: unmarried surviving spouse (or you were previously married, and the marriage ended before Nov. 1, 1990), or, the unmarried child of the deceased veteran who is under 18, became permanently disabled before 18, or is between 18 and 23 years old and enrolled in an approved educational institution.

What if my spouse is also a veteran with a 30% or higher service connected disability rating? Can we claim each other and our children?

Both you and your spouse can claim each other and your children if you are both Veterans with a 30% or higher disability rating. It may take longer for the VA to process, and it is recommended that you submit online to get the fastest decision possible. 

What happens if I get divorced or need to remove a dependent?

Some veterans are now divorced from the partner they were legally married to while serving in the military. There are certain questions about VA benefits in this situation, and in cases where a dependent needs to be removed.The easiest way to remove a dependent is online, through your profile. The VA will take longer to remove a child than a spouse, but an online claim is always faster than a paper claim. 

If the VA finds that you continue to receive compensation for a former spouse or dependent without notifying them, it could significantly impact your future benefits. The VA would attempt to collect the money back that was incorrectly dispersed, usually by withholding from your monthly checks until the full amount was paid. You do not need to remove a child from your benefits once they reach an ineligible age.

The VA will track their age based on their date of birth, and they will be removed when they reach 18 years of age unless they are attending college, which would increase the limit to a maximum age of 23.

Why is it better to file my claim online versus by mail?

The VA processes electronic (online) dependency claims much faster than paper claims because of an automatic processing system. You can often get a decision in as little as 48 hours after filing.The online application is straightforward. Paper forms require multiple forms to be used and can be convoluted.

You can also easily upload supporting documents in the same application. It also allows you to keep a record of the date you started the claim, so it can be used as the effective date for when the dependency benefits are awarded. 

There are many benefits for dependents of prior active duty service members. They include everything from financial benefits to healthcare and education. If the Veteran with the service connected disability has passed away, there are additional benefits available for a surviving spouse, child or parent. These benefits are through dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC).

If you have any questions regarding your dependent benefits, the VA can be contacted at 1-800-827-1000. Hours are Monday through Friday, 8:00am to 9:00pm ET.

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