Veteran Affairs Survivor Benefits

Category: Veterans Disability Law

Article by Tuley Law staff

Veteran Affairs Survivor Benefits

For those of us in military families, losing our loved one in the line of duty is one of our greatest fears. Even when that loved one returns home a veteran, they may still suffer from a disability or condition which could lead to an untimely death. In addition to the emotional distress this loss causes, there may be a large financial burden placed on the surviving family if the veteran was the primary provider. 

If you have to go through the grief of losing a loved one, the last thing we want is for you to have to worry about paying bills and covering expenses. This is why the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has programs in place to help surviving spouses, dependent children, and dependent parents of deceased veterans. 

VA offers Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits, burial benefits, health care, housing loans, and more monetary assistance to those who qualify for VA survivor benefits. If you are eligible for these benefits, Tuley Law Office can help you obtain the compensation you deserve.

Can Spouses of Deceased Veterans Receive Veteran Survivor Benefits?

Spouses and dependents of veterans are eligible for certain benefits, including health care, life insurance, and tuition reimbursement. Some programs may only apply to low-income families, while others depend on the veteran’s service-connected disability status. If you’re unsure whether or not you qualify for VA benefits after death takes your spouse or parent, the attorneys at Tuley Law Office can help.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)

Dependency and indemnity compensation is a tax-free monthly benefit for eligible survivors of veterans who died from a service-related injury or illness. Benefits and qualifications vary for surviving spouses, children, parents, and other dependents.

VA Benefits for Surviving Spouses

To be eligible for DIC VA surviving spouse benefits, you must meet certain requirements and provide evidence supporting your claim. For spousal benefits, one of the following must be true:

  • You married the veteran or service member before January 1, 1957.
  • You married the veteran or service member within 15 years of their discharge from the period of military service during which the qualifying illness or injury started or got worse.
  • You were married to the veteran or service member for at least one year.

Additionally, if you had a child with the veteran or service member, aren’t currently remarried, and either lived with the veteran or service member without a break until their death—or, if separated, weren’t at fault for the separation—you may be eligible for DIC spousal VA benefits.

Surviving Children

Surviving children of veterans may be eligible for DIC benefits when certain requirements are met. The following must be true to receive benefits as a surviving child:

  • You are not married.
  • You are under the age of 18, or under the age of 23 if attending school.
  • You are not included on surviving spouse’s compensation.

Surviving Parent(s)

You may be eligible for DIC benefits as a surviving parent of a veteran if both of these are true for you:

  • Your income falls below the designated VA DIC rate for parents.
  • You are the biological, adoptive, or foster parent of the deceased veteran or service member.

Proving Benefit Eligibility

For any and all dependents—including surviving spouses, children, or parents—to receive DIC benefits, one of the following must be proven:

  • The veteran died while on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive-duty training.
  • The veteran died from a service-connected illness or injury.
  • The veteran didn’t die from a service-connected illness or injury, but was eligible to receive VA compensation for a service-connected disability rated as totally disabling for a certain period of time.

Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance

Survivors and dependents of veterans may qualify for educational benefits known as the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program. The DEA program was established as a part of the GI Bill to help veterans and their children get educated. 

If you are the child, spouse, or dependent of a service member who has died, is missing, or has a service-connected disability, you may be eligible for educational assistance or job training through the DEA program. To qualify, one of the following must be true of the veteran:

  • They are permanently and totally disabled due to service-connected disability or injury.
  • They died while on active duty or as a result of service-connected disability.
  • They are missing in action in the line of duty.

Children of veterans or service members may be eligible to receive benefits if they are between the ages of 18 and 26. However, if you are over 18 years old and receiving DEA benefits, you cannot claim Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. Spouses of veterans or service members are able to use DEA benefits while collecting DIC payments.

DEA benefits include assistance with monthly payments for college or graduate degree programs, career-training courses, educational or career counseling, apprenticeships, and on-the-job training.

VA Survivor Health Care Benefits

Many uniformed and retired service members are covered by TRICARE, a regionally managed government program that offers comprehensive health care benefits. However, there are certain circumstances in which a surviving spouse or child does not qualify for TRICARE. In this case, the surviving spouse/widow and child may be eligible for the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA). 

CHAMPVA provides financial assistance to surviving spouses and children who cannot receive TRICARE for one reason or another. 

To qualify for CHAMPVA benefits from VA, the surviving spouse and dependent children must meet the following requirements:

  • They are the spouse or child of a veteran who was rated permanently and totally disabled for a service-connected disability.
  • They are the spouse or child of a veteran who is now dead from a VA-related service-connected disability.
  • They are the spouse or child of a veteran who was rated permanently and totally disabled for a service-connected disability at the time of their death.
  • They are the spouse or child of a service member killed in the active line of duty, not as a result of misconduct; these family members usually qualify for TRICARE.

CHAMPVA is VA’s way of protecting individuals who may have been left behind by the TRICARE system or individuals who survive a disabled veteran. CHAMPVA can also provide 100 percent disabled veteran benefits for spouses of veterans that are completely disabled.

VA Employment Resources

Surviving spouses, children, and dependents of service members or veterans are eligible to receive educational and career counseling benefits through the Career Planning and Guidance program. After losing a primary source of income in the family, it can be tough to financially recover. Job training helps get a family back on its feet and to a point of eventual self-sufficiency. A variety of programs exist for varying industries.

Beyond these programs, there are many private companies actively looking to help and hire veterans or those in military families.

Home Loan Financing for Surviving Spouses or Dependents

There are also VA survivor benefits available for individuals who are looking for a new home. Surviving spouses, children, or other dependents may be eligible for a VA-backed home loan by Certificate of Eligibility (COE). In order to receive this benefit, one of the following must be true:

  • The veteran is missing in action.
  • The veteran is currently a prisoner of war.
  • The veteran died while in service from a service-connected disability and—if your spouse—you did not remarry.

This can help families relocate to other areas where they may better be able to recover from their loss. To apply for a CEO loan, fill out and submit VA Form 26-1817.

Veterans Pension and Survivors' Benefits

DIC benefits are awarded based on service-connected disabilities, Survivors Pension benefits are not. Regardless of disability, surviving spouses and children may receive tax-free military death benefits for family expenses when a veteran dies in (or as a result of) military service. 

The VA Survivors Pension offers monthly payments to qualifying surviving spouses and unmarried dependent children. To qualify, you must meet income limits set by Congress and other specific criteria. For survivors to be eligible for VA Survivors Pension, the deceased veteran must have:

  • Entered active duty on or before September 7, 1980 and served at least 90 days in active duty with at least one day of  active duty during a wartime period
  • Entered active duty after September 7, 1980 and served at least 24 months on active duty, served the full period called for, or been ordered to active duty for at least one day during a wartime period
  • AND, been discharged from service under honorable conditions (not dishonorably discharged)

VA death benefits for spouses will only be awarded if the spouse meets all of the following requirements:

  • The spouse’s net worth must meet the limit set by Congress and Medicaid for the Community Spouse Resource Allowance (CSRA).
  • The spouse’s income must fall below the specified income in the VA Survivors Pension rate table as outlined by VA.
  • The spouse must not be married; this requirement does not apply if you were remarried after the veteran died and the marriage had ended prior to November 1, 1990.

Military death benefits for children will not be awarded unless the child meets at least one of the following requirements:

  • Under the age of 18
  • Under the age of 23 and attending school
  • Unable to care for themself due to disability occurring before age 18

Surviving spouses or unmarried dependent children must have a net worth and income that meets the limits set by Congress.

To apply for VA Survivors Pension, fill out and submit VA Form 21P-534EZ or hire an experienced VA disability lawyer.

Veteran Burial Benefits

In addition to Survivors Pension, VA also pays out burial allowances at a flat rate. These surviving spouse benefits can help cover the funeral or burial costs for eligible veterans. 

VA burial allowances are paid at the maximum amount allowed by law and can also be used to cover other related expenses, like headstones or gravesites. In the past, eligible surviving spouses had to apply for burial allowances, but as of 2014, it became an automatic payment. To simplify the process, the spouse receives the allowance on notification of the veteran’s death. 

While the surviving spouse does not need to file a claim or fill anything out, they must meet the following eligibility requirements to receive the VA burial allowance:

  • The veteran must have died from a service-connected disability.
  • The veteran must have been receiving compensation or pension from VA when they died.
  • The veteran died while hospitalized by VA or receiving care under a VA contract.
  • The veteran died under proper authorization at VA expense.
  • The veteran died moving to or from a place that was designated to provide treatment, care, or an examination.
  • The veteran had an original claim or reopened claim for VA pension or compensation when they died.
  • The veteran died as a patient at a VA-approved nursing home on or after October 9, 1996.
  • The veteran received full military retirement or disability pay when entitled to VA pension or compensation.
  • The veteran was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.

Depending on which state the veteran was a resident of, there may also be additional burial privileges available. For example, Indiana veterans can opt to be buried in a veteran cemetery.

VA Benefits for Dependent Parents

There are also situations in which the surviving parent of a deceased veteran can receive assistance. These VA dependent benefits for parents are available for individuals who meet the following requirements:

  • The survivor had a parental relationship to the deceased veteran.
  • The surviving parent must have been financially dependent on the veteran.

Additionally, if the parent is trying to get DIC benefits, they will need to meet the minimum income eligibility requirements. VA will consider the situation and determine whether or not the parents are truly dependent before providing benefits.

VA Benefits for Children of Veterans

Children are also expected to meet two requirements before they are eligible to receive any form of compensation from VA:

  • The child must be a biological, adopted, or stepchild of the deceased veteran.
  • The child must be under 18 years of age, between 18 and 23 years of age if pursuing education, or have been permanently incapable of self-support since before 18 years of age.

VA determines which educational institutions count as pursuing education. Typically, a permanent organization that offers classes to students who meet their criteria will suffice. This includes schools, colleges, seminaries, universities, academies, and technical institutes. 

A home school program will only be approved as an educational pursuit if it operates under state attendance laws. International schools outside the U.S. can also be approved if the program is accredited and standardized. 

It should be noted that there are no deceased veterans benefits for grandchildren. These restrictions are meant to prevent those who may not need assistance from taking advantage of the system. 

Biological Children

In order to prove the child is indeed the biological child of a deceased veteran, VA will need a written statement with the child’s date of birth, age, and social security number. 

Although VA rarely requests more information, you may be asked to supply additional proof in the form of the following documents:

  • A copy of the birth record
  • A copy of the baptism record
  • A copy of a notary public-certified family record
  • A certified statement from a physician or midwife who was present at the birth
  • A certified statement from an uninvested third-party with personal knowledge of the child’s biological relationship

This evidence will be sufficient if the child was born while the veteran was married and the veteran is the child’s biological parent, or if the veteran was not married but they are the child’s mother. 

If the veteran is the child’s father and was unmarried at the time of birth, VA will inspect each case to ensure that evidence is truthful and accurate. VA widow benefits and children of married parents benefits are easier to obtain because there are no potential secondary motives. Additional evidence that may be submitted in this case includes the following:

  • Proof that the father has previously been identified as the child’s father by a judge
  • A birth certificate listing the veteran as the father
  • A signed statement from the veteran (father) acknowledging the relationship
  • Any existing documentation naming the veteran as the child’s father AND proving the veteran knew about the relationship

If the veteran is not biologically related to the child, different evidence will be required to prove eligibility.

Adopted Children and Stepchildren

If the child is adopted, evidence must be provided that the veteran legally adopted the child before the age of 18. This could be a copy of the adoptive placement agreement or a copy of the adoption decree itself. Stepchildren who were the biological child of a veteran’s spouse, surviving spouse, or former spouse may also qualify.

There must be enough evidence to establish a marital and/or biological relationship. In addition, the veteran must show that the child resides in the veteran’s household. If the veteran is deceased, the surviving spouse must prove that the child was a resident of the veteran’s household at the time the veteran passed away. 

Permanently Dependent Children

VA uses the term “helpless” to refer to any biological, adopted, or stepchild who becomes indefinitely incapable of self-support before the age of 18. This can be the result of a mental or physical disability. 

Whoever is responsible for claiming benefits for the disabled child should submit any lay statements, medical files, or psychiatric reports to show the child was incapacitated before turning 18. As long as the child is not employed, married, or capable of supporting themself, they will continue to be considered a “helpless child” by VA. 

Veterans’ Spouse Benefits After Divorce

Following divorce, a former spouse is eligible for the Continued Heath Care Benefit Program (CHCBP) for up to three years. If the former spouse of the veteran or service member stays unmarried, they may remain on CHCBP for life.

Contact Tuley Law Office Today

At Tuley Law Office, we specialize in veteran’s disability, and we can help the spouses, children, and dependents of veterans obtain benefits. 

If your parent is a deceased veteran and you are an eligible child, reach out to us. If your spouse is a deceased veteran and you are struggling to make ends meet, reach out to us.

Our veteran disability lawyers are here to help you get the compensation you are entitled to.

Have questions about your case?

Contact us