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Veterans Law

VA Benefits for Spouses of Disabled Veterans

Zachary Stolz

June 24, 2019

Updated: June 20, 2024

VA Benefits for Spouses of Disabled Veterans

There are several VA benefits for spouses of disabled veterans, such as disability compensation, health care, education and training, employment services, insurance coverage, and survivors’ benefits.

Additional Compensation for Veterans with Dependents

VA provides additional monthly compensation for veterans with qualifying dependents who have a combined disability rating of 30 percent or higher.  Qualifying dependents include the following:

  • A spouse
  • Children under the age of 18
  • Children between the ages of 18 and 23 who are still in school
  • Dependent parents

The amount of additional compensation varies based on the dependent.  CCK’s 2022 VA disability pay chart can help veterans and their dependents determine the amount of monthly disability compensation to which they are entitled.  Disabled veterans with spouses in need of regular aid and attendance may receive even more compensation.

VA Benefits for Spouses of Disabled Veterans

CHAMPVA Benefits for Spouses

VA also provides health care insurance coverage for the spouses of certain totally disabled veterans under the Civilian Health and Medical Program, or CHAMPVA.  For spouses to be eligible, the disabled veteran must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Rated permanently and totally disabled due to a service-connected condition;
  • Died on active duty, in line of duty;
  • Died from a service-connected disability; or
  • Was rated permanently and totally disabled due to a service-connected condition at the time of death.

Importantly, to be eligible for CHAMPVA, spouses of disabled veterans cannot be eligible for TRICARE (i.e., the healthcare program for uniformed service members, retirees, and their families).  CHAMPVA benefits are also extended to spouses ages 65 and older if certain eligibility requirements are met.

With CHAMPVA, spouses of disabled veterans will be covered for certain services and supplies (i.e., when VA determines they are medically necessary and were received from an authorized provider).  Examples of covered services include the following:

  • Ambulance service
  • Ambulatory surgery
  • Durable medical equipment
  • Family planning and maternity
  • Hospice
  • Inpatient services
  • Mental health services
  • Outpatient services
  • Pharmacy (prescription medicines)
  • Skilled nursing care
  • Transplants

Essentially, CHAMPVA will cover the cost of any medical service that is deemed necessary for the dependent’s physical and mental wellbeing.  This benefit is very valuable considering the high costs of medical care.  CHAMPVA can make a huge difference for families of disabled veterans, particularly for spouses.

VA’s Caregiver Program

VA also offers spouse benefits through the Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers Program, or the Caregiver Program.  The Caregiver Program was initially established in 2011 in an effort to provide benefits to caregivers (e.g., spouses or dependents who end up leaving jobs to care for a veteran full-time due to the extent or nature of their disability).

The program provides caregivers with monthly compensation, medical training, healthcare benefits, and respite.  Other benefits offered under the Caregiver Program include:

  • Reimbursement for caregiver’s education
  • Travel expenses
  • Lodging expenses for travel to a medical facility
  • A monthly stipend (in some cases)

To apply, caregivers must submit VA Form 10-10CG.

How to Qualify for VA’s Caregiver Program

To be eligible for the Caregiver Program, the veteran must have suffered a serious injury that impacts their activities of daily living.  Examples of serious injuries may include traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or the loss of a limb.  The veteran must also:

  • Be a veteran, or member of the armed forces, undergoing a medical discharge;
  • Have an individual or combined VA disability rating of 70 percent or higher;
  • Have served on or after September 11, 2001 or on or before May 7, 1975;
  • Have service-connected disabilities which were caused or aggravated by active duty service; and
  • Need at least six months of continuous, in-person personal care services.

The caregiver assisting the veteran must also meet certain qualifications, including the following:

  • The caregiver must be at least 18 years old; and
  • The spouse, child, parent, stepparent, stepchild, or extended family member of the veteran; and
  • Live with the veteran full time or be willing to if designated as the family caregiver.
VA Caregiver Program Application, Benefits, and Requirements Explained

VA’s Mission Act

In June of 2019, the VA Mission Act (i.e., the VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act) was fully implemented.  The $52 billion bill was passed with the intention of overhauling veterans’ access to private healthcare, including caregiver benefits nationwide.

The Mission Act stated that the Caregivers Assistance Program would be extended to pre-9/11 veterans as well.  This expansion of benefits to include eligible veterans from all eras of service was to be implemented over the course of several years, mainly in two phases:

  • Phase One, effective October 1, 2020, allows eligibility for veterans who were seriously injured in the line of duty on or after May 7, 1975.
  • Phase Two, which is said to take effect two years following phase one, will allow eligibility for veterans who were seriously injured in the line of duty between May 7, 1975 and September 10, 2001.

Dependents’ Educational Assistance

Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA), also referred to as Chapter 35 benefits, offers education and training opportunities to eligible spouses of certain disabled veterans.

DEA recognizes that due to a veteran’s death or disability, their dependent may be left without the resources necessary to pursue education or employment training.  It also acknowledges that the veteran’s dependent may have otherwise had such resources if not for the veteran either passing away due to a service-connected condition or severely disabled due to military service.

DEA benefits may be used for degree and certificate programs, apprenticeship, on-the-job training, and more.  Additionally, spouses can receive reimbursement for correspondence courses.  Remedial, deficiency, and refresher training are also available in some cases.

Eligibility for DEA

For spouses of veterans to qualify for DEA VA spouse benefits, the veteran or service member must have:

  • Died or be permanently and totally disabled as the result of a service-connected condition;
  • Died from any cause while permanently and totally disabled due to a service-connected condition;
  • Been missing in action or captured in the line of duty by a hostile force;
  • Forcibly detained or interned in the line of duty by a foreign government or power; or
  • Hospitalized or receiving outpatient care for a VA determined service-connected permanent and total disability and will likely be discharged for that disability.

Through the DEA program, spouses of disabled veterans may receive up to 45 months of education benefits if they began using DEA prior to August 1, 2018.  If they began the program on or after this date, they now have 36 months to use these benefits.

Once DEA takes effect, dependents typically have 10 years from either the date of the veteran’s death or the date that the DEA benefits were granted to use the benefits provided.  There are certain circumstances in which a dependent will have 20 years to use DEA benefits; however, this usually occurs when a veteran passed away while on active duty.  The most common scenario involves the 10-year period from either the date of death or from the date the benefit was granted.

Applying for DEA Benefits

In some cases, veterans will see language such as “eligibility to dependents Chapter 35 DEA / CHAMPVA are established” in their decisions from VA.  Here, VA has granted DEA because the veteran has a permanent and total disability.  However, before DEA benefits can be distributed, either the veteran or their spouse is required to fill out a specific application (VA Form 22-5490) and submit it to their local Regional Office.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is a tax-free, monthly benefit paid to surviving spouses of veterans whose deaths were directly related to military service or to a service-connected condition.  To qualify for the DIC VA death benefits for the spouse, veterans and service members must meet one of VA’s criteria:

  • The service member died while on active duty, active duty training, or inactive duty training; or
  • The veteran passed away due to a service-connected condition; or
  • The veteran’s death was not service-related, but the veteran was entitled to receive VA disability compensation for a totally disabling condition (or TDIU):
    • For a period of at least 10 years prior to their death; or
    • Since release from active duty and for a period of at least five years before their death; or
    • For at least one year prior to death if they were a former prisoner of war who died after September 30, 1999.

To prove eligibility for DIC, the spouse must establish service connection for the veteran’s cause of death, meaning the veteran’s service-connected disability was a principle or contributory cause of their passing.

Spouses of disabled veterans are typically eligible for DIC benefits if they were married to the veteran for at least one year prior to the veteran’s death.  In certain situations, some surviving spouses may be eligible for additional DIC benefits if any of the following criteria are met:

  • The veteran was totally disabled and receiving, or eligible to receive, compensation for a totally disabling condition (including TDIU) for a period of eight consecutive years; or
  • The surviving spouse has dependent children under the age of 18; or
  • The surviving spouse requires aid and attendance or is housebound.

Importantly, DIC has its own exclusive rates, which tend to increase annually with the cost-of-living adjustment.  As of December 1, 2021, the fixed benefit amount for DIC is $1,437.65 a month.

Applying and Evidence for DIC

When applying for DIC benefits, spouses must submit VA Form 21P-534EZ, Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Accrued Benefits, and Survivors Pension.  In addition to this form, certain evidence will also need to be submitted to help substantiate the claim.  VA will likely ask spouses for documents and information regarding their family history, such as:

  • Marriage certificate: Surviving spouses must submit a marriage certificate to VA showing that the marriage was legally valid for the purpose of receiving benefits.
  • Birth certificates and school transcripts: Evidence relating to the veteran’s dependent children will also need to be submitted, such as birth certificates and school or college transcripts.
  • Death certificate: The veteran’s death certificate is another critical piece of evidence to submit because, in most cases, it lists the veteran’s cause of death.

If the cause of death is related to one of the veteran’s service-connected conditions, then it should be very straightforward for VA to grant benefits.  If not, survivors can look for evidence indicating a service-connected condition was a contributory cause of death.  Here, the primary cause of death does not have to be a service-connected condition if another service-connected condition at least contributed to the veteran’s passing.  Contributory causes of death are not always listed on death certificates.

Survivors can gather medical evidence from around the time the veteran passed away to help supplement their claim.  For example, say an elderly veteran fell in a nursing home and after passing away, had blunt force trauma to the head listed on their death certificate.  The veteran was service connected for a knee condition at the time of his death, and he frequently fell as a result of that knee condition.  This suggests that there was a link between the veteran’s service-connected knee condition (i.e., contributory cause) and his death, even though his death certificate does not list his knee condition as a cause of death.  In such cases, it may be helpful to get a medical opinion from a private doctor to help persuade VA that the service-connected condition played a role in causing the veterans death.

What if the Veteran’s Death Was Not Service Connected?

If a veteran dies due to a non-service-connected condition, the spouse may still be able to secure DIC.  In this situation, the spouse can file a claim for service connection for the veteran’s cause of death, and VA will go through a normal standard review process.  During this process, VA will look at whether the veteran’s disability was in fact related to service.

Effective Dates for DIC Claims

If the veteran’s surviving spouse files their claim for DIC benefits within one year of the veteran’s death, the effective date will be the date of the veteran’s death.  However, if they file outside of that one-year timeframe, the effective date will be the date that VA receives the application.  Therefore, if possible, it is important to submit claims for DIC during the one-year period following the veteran’s passing.

VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) Explained

Accrued Benefits and Substitution VA Claims

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

In determining entitlement to VA accrued benefits, VA must look at the evidence in the veteran’s file at the time of death.  According to VA, examples of accrued benefits include the following:

  • A claim or appeal for a recurring benefit (e.g., service-connected compensation) was pending at the time of the veteran’s death and all evidence needed for a favorable position was in VA’s possession.
  • A claim for a recurring benefit was granted but the veteran died before the award was issued.

To apply for accrued benefits, survivors should submit the same form that is used for DIC benefits, VA Form 21P-534EZ.

VA Survivors Pension for Spouses

Survivors Pension, also known as Death Pension, is a tax-free VA benefit for the surviving spouse of a deceased veteran with wartime service.  For spouses to be eligible for Survivors Pension, the disabled veteran must meet the following requirements, according to VA’s website:

  • For service on or before September 7, 1980, the veteran must have served at least 90 days of active military service, with at least one day during a war time period.
  • For active duty after September 7, 1980, the veteran must have served at least 24 months or the full period for which they were called or ordered to active duty, with at least one day during a war time period.

Importantly, survivors must meet an income limit to be eligible.  Specifically, a survivor’s yearly family income must be less than the amount set by Congress.  If you are eligible for Survivors Pension, the amount of benefit will be the difference between your countable income (e.g., earnings, disability and retirement, interest, and dividends) and the annual pension limit.

VA Survivors Pension with Aid and Attendance

Surviving spouses receiving VA Survivors Pension may also be eligible for Aid and Attendance (A&A) benefits if they need help with daily activities.  A&A provides additional compensation alongside Survivors Pension monthly rates.

Surviving spouses may also qualify for housebound benefits.  Spouses who spend most of their time in their home because of a permanent disability may be eligible for this benefit.  However, spouses cannot receive A&A and housebound benefits at the same time.

VA Burial Benefits for Spouses of Veterans

The National Cemetery Administration (NCA) offers burial services to spouses of veterans.  When a veteran’s spouse passes away, they may be eligible to be buried in the national cemetery.  They are eligible for this benefit regardless of whether the veteran has already passed away as well.

Spouses can also have their name and their date of birth engraved on the veteran’s headstone.  This benefit also guarantees that they will have perpetual care of their grave site.

Was Your Claim for VA Spouse Benefits Denied?

If VA denied your claim for spouse or survivor benefits, Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD may be able to help.  Our team of experienced and knowledgeable veterans’ advocates at CCK have helped many spouses and survivors secure the VA benefits they are rightfully owed.  Reach out to CCK today for a free consultation.

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