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Veterans Law

How to Apply for VA Survivors Benefits (Form 21P-534EZ)

Zachary Stolz

May 30, 2019

Updated: November 20, 2023

VA survivors benefits

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers certain benefits to eligible surviving spouses, children, and parents of deceased veterans.  VA survivors benefits include Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Survivor’s Pension, and burial benefits.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is a tax-free, monthly benefit afforded to surviving spouses, children, and dependent parents of veterans whose death was related to military service or a service-connected condition.  Importantly, survivors are not paid the same monthly amount that the veteran was receiving at the time of his or her death.  DIC has its own exclusive rates, which can be found on VA’s website.

If the veteran’s claim is still pending at the time of his or her passing, the surviving spouse may be substituted into the pending claim as the claimant.  If service connection or an increased rating is later awarded, the surviving spouse will receive VA accrued benefits (i.e. the retroactive pay the veteran would have received if he or she were alive), up to the date of the veteran’s death.

It is important to note that DIC benefits and accrued benefits are not the same.  While a surviving spouse can be substituted in and receive accrued benefits, he or she would still need to apply for DIC benefits if the accrued benefits were for a condition other than what caused the veteran’s death.  Additionally, DIC benefits are recurring, monthly payments whereas accrued benefits are a one-time, lump sum.

Survivor’s Pension (Death Pension)

VA’s Survivor’s Pension program is a tax-free, needs-based, financial benefit reserved for low-income surviving spouses and children of deceased veterans with wartime service.  The veteran does not have to have been service-connected for any conditions while he or she was alive for his or her dependents to qualify for Survivor’s Pension.

Application for VA Survivors Benefits

The formal application used to submit a claim for VA survivors benefits is Form 21P-534EZ, Application for DIC, Death Pension, and/or Accrued Benefits.  This document is eight pages long and contains the following 12 sections:

Section I – Personal Information

In the first section of VA Form 21P-534EZ, you must answer questions that indicate whether you’re applying for DIC benefits, Survivor’s Pension, or accrued benefits.  Next, you must specify how you are related to the veteran.  From there, you will have to provide personal information about the deceased veteran including his or her name, social security number, date of birth, and date of death.  You must also be prepared to provide the same information about yourself, with the addition of your current mailing address and phone number.  Finally, this section will ask you to explain how you are related to the deceased veteran and whether you are applying for benefits as a surviving spouse or a surviving child.

Section II – Veteran’s Service Information

Section II is only necessary to complete if the veteran was not already receiving VA compensation or pension benefits at the time of his or her death.  Here, you must provide details about the veteran’s military service including the service entrance date, service number, branch number, and the date he or she left active service.

Section III – Marital Information

You will only complete this section if you are claiming benefits as the surviving spouse of the veteran.  If you are a surviving child, you can skip to the next section.  However, to claim benefits as a surviving spouse, you must provide information about both your previous marriages and the deceased veteran’s previous marriages, if applicable.  Specifically, this section requires you to indicate how long each marriage lasted and explain how the marriage ended (e.g. divorce, death).  You will also answer questions about your marriage with the veteran, including whether you had any children.

Section IV – Child of the Veteran

Section IV is only required if you are claiming benefits for a surviving child of the veteran, otherwise you are permitted to move onto section V.  In this section, you will need to list the names of each child, their date and place of birth, social security number, and relationship to the deceased veteran (i.e. biological, adopted, or stepchild).

Section V – Veteran’s Parent

This section pertains to the final eligible recipient of VA survivors benefits: a dependent parent.  If you are not claiming benefits as the parent of a veteran, you are permitted to skip this section.  Here, you will have to provide information about your marital status as well as your relationship with the deceased veteran.

Section VI: Dependency and Indemnity Compensation

If you are claiming DIC, it is necessary to complete section VI.  Specifically, you must indicate whether you are claiming standard DIC benefits or DIC under 38 USC § 1151, which VA acknowledges as rare.  In this section, you will also have to list any VA medical centers where the veteran received treatment pertaining to your claim and provide the treatment dates.

Section VII – Nursing Home or Increased Survivors Entitlement

If you are housebound, living in a nursing home, or need help completing every day tasks, you can use this section to ask for additional benefits known as Special Monthly Pension or Special Monthly DIC.

Section VIII – Income and Assets

Section VIII is only applicable to those who are claiming Survivor’s Pension.  Since this benefit is based on annual income, you are required to provide your net worth.  Here, net worth includes assets such as your bank account, any stocks, bonds, or mutual funds, and any properties you own.  If you are eligible for Survivor’s Pension, VA will pay you the difference between your countable income (e.g. earnings, disability and retirement, interest and dividends) and the annual pension limit set by Congress.

Section IX – Information About Your Medical or Other Expenses

You can use section IX to list any expenses that you have not been reimbursed for, including but not limited to, family medical expenses, educational or vocational rehabilitation expenses, and burial expenses.

Section X – Direct Deposit Information

In this section, you are required to provide direct deposit information so if VA decides you are eligible to receive survivors benefits, that information will be on file.  You have the option to attach a voided check or include your bank account information in this section of VA Form 21P-534EZ.

Section XI-XII – Claim Certification and Signature

The final section of VA Form 21P-534EZ involves signing and dating your application.  Furthermore, there is space for you to provide any additional information related to the questions in other sections.  If you need more space, you can attach a separate sheet of paper.

Where Do I Send My Application for VA Survivors Benefits?

Once VA Form 21P-534EZ is completed in its entirety, you can mail it to the Pension Management Center that serves your state.  This information is listed on VA’s website.  Additionally, you can visit your local Regional Office and turn in your application for processing in person.

About the Author

Bio photo of Zachary Stolz

Zach is a Partner at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick. He joined CCK in 2007 and since that time, his law practice has focused on representing disabled veterans before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

See more about Zachary