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Veterans Law

Substitution and VA Benefits: How to Substitute and Who Qualifies

April Donahower

August 29, 2018

Updated: November 20, 2023


When a veteran passes away while a claim for VA disability benefits is still pending, an eligible individual may be substituted into the veteran’s case to continue the claim for benefits. Substitution is different than applying for Dependency Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits, but like DIC benefits, it can result in compensation for the person substituted.

Filing for Substitution

Filing for substitution means that an eligible dependent or surviving spouse of the veteran applies to step into the shoes of the veteran in their VA claim. When someone is substituted into a deceased veteran’s claim, that claim will proceed as it would have if the veteran were still alive. If VA grants the veteran’s claim after he or she passes away, the person who is substituted into the veteran’s claim can receive the benefits that would have been owed to the deceased veteran.

However, an individual can only be substituted into the veteran’s claim up until one year after the date of the veteran’s death.

Who Is Eligible for Substitution?

When a veteran passes away during the pendency of their appeal for VA benefits, their dependents may be substituted into the case as the claimant. However, VA has specific rules and requirements for who can be substituted into the veteran’s claim. Only the following can be substituted:

  • A surviving spouse
  • A dependent child
    • A dependent child is one that is under the age of 18; in college full-time and under the age of 23; or became permanently disabled before reaching 18 years old.
    • A dependent child does not have to be biological, they can be a step-child or an adopted child.
  • A dependent parent
VA Accrued Benefits and Substitution: How to Continue a Deceased Veteran's Claim

How Do You Apply for Substitution?

Eligible dependents can apply for substitution by submitting a VA Form 21P-534EZ within one year of the veteran’s death. VA Form 21P-534EZ is an application for substitution, accrued benefits, and DIC benefits, so VA will issue a decision to the surviving spouse or dependent on each of those three benefits.

Will the Surviving Spouse or Dependent Get Benefits?

In the event that VA grants substitution, that alone will not mean the surviving spouse or dependent will receive benefits. The individual who is substituted will only receive compensation if the veteran’s claim for compensation is eventually granted. The compensation they receive is called accrued benefits. Accrued benefits is the retroactive pay that the veteran would have received if they were alive. However, the surviving spouse or dependent will only receive compensation up to the date the veteran passed away, not up to the date the benefit was granted by VA. In the case of the veteran having more than one dependent child or parent, the accrued benefits will be split evenly among each dependent child or each dependent parent.

Surviving spouses or dependents may also receive DIC benefits if the veteran passed away due to a service-connected condition. DIC is a monthly benefit payable to a veteran’s surviving spouse, dependent child, or dependent parent at a fixed rate.

About the Author

Bio photo of April Donahower

April joined Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick in August of 2016 as an Associate Attorney. She currently serves as the Appellate Supervisor in our Veterans Law practice. April’s practice focuses on representing disabled veterans before the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

See more about April