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Veterans Law

VA Benefits for Spouses of Disabled Veterans

June 24, 2019
veterans' spouses

Spouses of disabled veterans may be eligible for VA benefits, such as disability compensation, health care, education and training, employee services, insurance coverage, and survivors’ benefits.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)

Spouses of veterans whose death was related to military service or a service-connected condition may be eligible to receive a tax-free, monthly benefit known as Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).  For spouses to qualify for DIC benefits, veterans and servicemembers must meet one of the following criteria:

  • “The servicemember 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 death; or
    • Since release from active duty and for a period of at least five years prior to the veteran’s death; or
    • “For at least one year before death if the veteran was a former prisoner of war who died after September 30, 1999.”

To prove DIC claims, the spouse will have to establish service connection for cause of death, meaning that a service-connected disability was the principle or contributory cause of the veteran’s passing.  If the veteran’s claim or appeal is still pending at the time of the veteran’s 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 he or she were alive) up to the date of the veteran’s death.

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

  • The veteran, prior to death, was totally disabled and receiving, or eligible to receive, compensation for a totally disabling condition (including recipients of TDIU benefits) for a period of 8 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

CHAMPVA for Spouses of Totally Disabled Veterans

VA will also provide health care insurance coverage for the spouses of certain totally disabled (whether rated 100 percent or receiving TDIU benefits) veterans under the Civilian Health and Medical Program, or CHAMPVA.  In order 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 servicemembers, 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 services and supplies 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

Veterans’ Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (Chapter 35)

Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) offers education and training opportunities to eligible spouses of certain disabled veterans.  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 is also available in some cases.  Through this 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.  To be eligible for DEA benefits, you must be the spouse of:

  • A veteran who died, or is permanently and totally disabled, as the result of a service-connected condition;
  • A veteran who died from any cause while such permanent and total service-connected condition was in existence;
  • A servicemember missing in action or captured in the line of duty by a hostile force;
  • A servicemember forcibly detained or interned in the line of duty by a foreign government or power; or
  • A servicemember hospitalized or receiving outpatient care for a VA determined service-connected permanent and total disability and is likely to be discharged for that disability

VA Survivors Pension

Survivors Pension, also often called Death Pension, is a tax-free, monthly VA benefit available to a low-income, un-remarried surviving spouse of a deceased veteran with wartime service.  In order for their 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.
  • Received a discharge under other than dishonorable conditions.

Importantly, survivors must meet an income limit in order 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 benefits if they need help with daily activities.  Aid and attendance benefits provide monthly payments added to the amount of your monthly Survivors Pension.  To qualify for these additional benefits, at least one of the following must be true:

  • You need another person to help you perform daily activities, like bathing, feeding, and dressing, or
  • You have to stay in bed – or spend a large portion of the day in bed – because of illness, or
  • You are a patient in a nursing home due to the loss of mental or physical abilities related to a disability, or
  • Your eyesight is limited (even with glasses or contact lenses you have only 5/200 or less in both eyes; or concentric contraction of the visual field to 5 degrees or less)

Housebound benefits also provide a monthly payment in addition to that which you receive for Survivors Pension.  If you spend most of your time in your home because of a permanent disability, you may be eligible for this benefit.  However, you cannot receive aid and attendance benefits and housebound benefits at the same time.

VA Compensation for Veterans with Spouses in Need of Aid and Attendance

Disabled veterans are eligible for additional monthly compensation for qualifying dependents if their combined disability rating is 30 percent or higher.  Qualifying dependents include (1) children under 18 years old; (2) children between ages 18 and 23 years old and still in school; (3) spouses; and (4) dependent parents.  Additional VA compensation is also provided to disabled veterans with spouses who are in need of regular aid and attendance.  Specifically, if the spouse is (1) a patient in a nursing home; or (2) blind, or so nearly blind or significantly disabled as to need or require the aid and attendance of another person, the veteran’s amount of monthly compensation will increase.