Surviving spouses and other family of deceased veterans may be eligible for thousands of dollars a month in VA benefits. Collecting these benefits means someone has to know exactly what to do when the veteran passes and where to locate the necessary documents. Here’s how to prepare your family for the process required to collect VA survivor benefits.
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You served your country but didn’t come home the same as you left. You receive VA disability benefits to supplement or as your income, but you’re thinking ahead about how your spouse and family would be supported after you die. This post explains what you – and your family members – need to know to plan for VA survivor benefits in the event of your death.
In this article about veteran pre-planning and surviving spouses:
Benefits available to veterans’ survivors
Various benefits are available for veterans’ survivors through the VA, depending on the specific circumstances of the veteran’s military service and resulting disabilities.
VA survivor benefit options include:
- Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). This benefit is a monthly tax-free amount paid to a surviving spouse, child, or parent. The payment increases for spouses if there are dependent children. We explain it further below.
- Survivors’ Pension. This income-based monthly benefit is payable to a surviving spouse and the dependents of a deceased veteran with wartime service. It’s also tax-free.
- The Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA). Provides reimbursement for most medical expenses to certain surviving spouses and dependents of veterans who met specific disability criteria.
- Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program (DEA). Assists with eligible education and training for veterans’ dependents under certain circumstances.
- Home Loans. Financial assistance purchasing, constructing, or improving a home. This benefit also can be used to refinance a home. Learn more about home benefits.
- Counseling. Various mental health services are available to survivors, including grief counseling.
- Burial. This benefit pays for costs associated with the veteran’s burial. We’ll explain it more later in this post.
Because each benefit has specific criteria and isn’t available to everyone, it’s essential to research it ahead of time to see if you qualify. Also, other benefits likely exist beyond those in this post.
Understanding Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)
Surviving spouses, children, or parents who lose their loved one to a service-connected disability are eligible to receive monthly DIC benefits, which include a payment of at least $1,562.74. The amount may increase with dependents and special circumstances.
Survivors who file for DIC might receive a monthly payment and a back pay check. If the veteran was appealing a VA decision before their death, a survivor can continue pursuing the claim and even appeal again if the decision isn’t favorable.
DIC qualifications for surviving spouses
To qualify for DIC benefits, a surviving spouse must prove one of the following:
- The service member died while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive-duty training, or
- The veteran died from a service-connected disability, or
- The veteran was eligible to receive VA compensation for a service-connected disability rated as totally disabling for at least 10 years immediately preceding death.
To receive the benefits, a surviving spouse must have lived with the veteran during the marriage or deemed valid marriageuntil death. If not, the surviving spouse can still collect payments if the spouse was not at “fault” for the separation.
A surviving spouse must also either:
- Be married to the veteran within 15 years of their discharge from the military service during which the qualifying illness or injury started or worsened, or
- Be married to the veteran for at least a year, or
- Have a child with the veteran
The marriage requirement includes couples in a “deemed valid marriage” for a year. “Deemed valid” means the VA finds that there would have been a valid marriage if there wasn’t a legal barrier, such as living in a state that doesn’t recognize common law marriages. Both common-law and same-sex marriages are eligible for benefits.
Surviving spouses can continue receiving DIC benefits if they remarry, but only if:
- They remarried on or after Dec. 16, 2003, and were 57 years of age or older at the time
- They remarried on or after Jan. 5, 2021, and were 55 years of age or older at the time
The surviving spouse may even decide to hire a VA lawyer to help ensure they’re receiving all of the benefits owed to them or to assist in the appeals process.
DIC benefits for surviving children or parents
Children who qualify for DIC must meet all of the following criteria:
- Aren’t married, AND
- Aren’t included on the surviving spouse’s compensation, AND
- Are under the age of 18 (or under the age of 23 if attending school)
Surviving parents are eligible for DIC if:
- They are the biological, adoptive, or foster parent of the Veteran or service member, AND
- Their income is below a certain amount
Documents you need to claim VA survivor’s benefits
When planning ahead, it’s essential to think about the types of documents your family might need when you pass. A resource like this VA survivor’s kit can help you prepare.
Helpful documents may include:
- Service treatment and personnel records from the veteran’s unit
- The veteran’s relevant private medical treatment records, including those at a VA medical center that support your claim
- Evidence from a layperson (someone who’s not a trained professional) of chronic (long-lasting) symptoms of the disability
Keeping all of your disability records in one place will help your family with the process of receiving benefits and relieve the stress of searching for documents while grieving. It’s a good idea to store the documents in an organized manner in a fire-safe container.
You’ll also want to make sure to review the documents with your family, so they know exactly where they are, what is there, and what they’ll need to gather and do upon your death.
What to do when a veteran dies
You also should discuss with your spouse (or dependent children or parents) what to do when you pass, so they can receive your VA disability benefits.
The survivor will first need to call the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) national call center at 1-800-827-1000 to report the death. This step is vital because failing to contact the VBA and inform them of the death could result in your spouse having to repay the government for the benefits they receive after you die.
Then, the most immediate benefits your family will want to apply for are those for burial. These funeral benefits include furnishing a headstone, marker, or medallion, a burial allowance, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and an American flag to drape over the casket. It also includes the option of burial in a VA national cemetery. If you would rather be buried in a private cemetery, the VA can provide a burial allowance of up to $2,000 if you meet these requirements. You also can apply in advance for these benefits to know exactly what the VA approves in your situation.
After burial, there are various forms your family will need to complete, depending on the type of benefit they’re applying for. The 21P-534EZ form is necessary for DIC benefits.
You could create a list of the individual benefits your spouse or other family will be eligible for and store that information and the required documents in a safe place. That way, your family will know where to find them.
The VA office in your region or an accredited veterans lawyer also can help surviving family members with the benefits process.
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Applying for VA benefits is always challenging and confusing. Applying for VA survivor’s benefits while grieving adds another layer to the process.
Contact us for a free consultation if you need help filing for initial benefits or if you think you were unfairly denied. You only pay if you win
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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Yes, the VA offers benefits to qualifying survivors, but they must apply for them. Survivors include spouses, children, and, in some cases, surviving parents.
There are myriad of benefits a veteran’s widow is entitled to, which can be thousands of dollars a month. The VA also pays for the burial of qualifying veterans.