When a spouse dies, it can feel as though your world has been upended. This is especially true if you and your spouse relied on monthly veterans disability benefits. However, you may be eligible to continue receiving benefits.
Are a Veteran’s Disability Compensation Payments Continued for a Surviving Spouse After Death?
No, a veteran’s disability compensation payments are not continued for a surviving spouse after death.
However, survivors may be entitled to a different type of benefit called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.
What Is Dependency and Indemnity Compensation?
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is a monthly benefit the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) awards to a surviving spouse or dependent child(ren) of a servicemember who:
- Died in action
- Died from a service-connected condition
As of September 2013, same-sex spouses of military veterans are afforded the same beneficiary rights as those of heterosexual military veterans. Legally married military couples of any orientation can apply to collect federal benefits.
Am I Eligible for DIC?
Unfortunately, not everyone who was married to a servicemember is entitled to DIC. There are certain criteria that both the veteran and surviving spouse must meet.
Proving Service Connection for Cause of Death
As seen above, you must show the VA that the veteran’s death was service connected. If he/she died in the line of duty or as a result of an already service-connected disability, this process should be relatively straightforward. But there are a few VA regulations meant to speed up the process that it might be helpful to know:
- If the death certificate lists the cause of death as one of the deceased veteran’s service-connected conditions, the VA should grant service connection without further investigation.
- If the veteran’s service-connected condition was a contributory cause of death, the VA should presume that it contributed “substantially and materially” to the veteran’s death, and so grant service connection without further investigation.
If the condition that caused the veteran’s death was not already service-connected when s/he died, you can still submit an application for DIC. Claims like these may take longer to process, though, because VA adjudicators will follow the typical disability claims review process to decide whether or not the cause of death is service connected.
However, if the cause of death is a “presumptive” disability, and the evidence shows the veteran meets the particular presumptive criteria (as an example, check out our post on Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam), the VA should grant service connection without further investigation.
What if My Spouse Did Not Die from a Service-Connected Condition?
Under 38 U.S. Code § 1318, veterans who did not die as a result of a service-connected disability, but meet the following criteria may be eligible for DIC “as if” their death was service connected:
- Had a service-connected disability that the VA rated totally disabling (100 percent); or
- Had disabilities that combined to be 100 percent to include on the basis of individual unemployability; and meets the criteria shown in the “Section 1318” part of the above infographic titled “Veterans Eligibility Criteria.”
Note that a survivor who receives benefits under Section 1318 is entitled to the same DIC benefits as a survivor whose spouse died from a service-connected disability.
8 Years Totally Disabled: Additional Compensation
Whether you are eligible under service connection for cause of death or under Section 1318, you may be eligible for additional compensation per month if the veteran was rated totally (100%) disabled for 8 continuous years immediately before death and you were married to the veteran those same 8 years.
Note that here, as with DIC eligibility under Section 1318, the veteran may have been totally disabled as a result of a single disability rated 100 percent, or multiple disabilities that combined to 100 percent, or due to unemployability (TDIU).
Do My DIC Benefits Stop if I Remarry?
If you remarry after starting to receive Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, the VA will generally cancel your benefits following your remarriage. In certain cases, however, the VA may restore (or continue) DIC benefits even if the surviving spouse remarries. These cases include:
- DIC can be restored if the remarriage ended in death, divorce, or annulment; or,
- A surviving spouse can continue to receive DIC if he/she remarried on or afterreaching age 57 and on or after December 16, 2003.
Note: Unfortunately, if you are a surviving spouse of a veteran who died on or after reaching age 57, but before December 16, 2003, the VA requires that you must have re-applied for DIC between December 16, 2003 and December 15, 2004, to have DIC benefits restored.
How Much Will I Receive in Monthly Compensation as a Surviving Spouse?
As of December 1, 2017 (if the death occurred after January 1, 1993), the fixed monthly benefit amount for DIC is $1,283.11.
If your children are under age 18 and live in your household, you are eligible for an additional benefit for each child — as of December 1, 2017, the per-child benefit is $317.87 per month. This benefit is generally available for a period of two years from when you start receiving benefits or until the child turns 18. If one or more of your children is disabled, you can continue to receive benefits on his/her behalf even beyond age 18.
You can also receive additional compensation if you are homebound and need assistance carrying out activities of daily living (for instance, bathing, dressing, eating, or toileting).
Do I Have to Apply for DIC?
Yes. If your spouse was on active duty or conducting a training exercise when killed, the VA should assign a Casualty Assistance Officer to help you in several capacities, one being filing for surviving spouse benefits on your behalf.
Otherwise, you can apply online using the VA’s website, or you can print Form 21-534, fill it out, and turn it into the VA.
When Should I Apply for DIC?
You should apply for DIC as soon as possible after the veteran’s death. If you apply within one year of the veteran’s death and are granted benefits, you will be paid retroactively from the date of the veteran’s death.
If you do not apply for DIC within a year of the veteran’s death and the VA later grants you benefits, your effective date (the date from which you begin receiving benefits) will be the date the VA receives your DIC claim.
Am I Eligible for Any Other Benefits?
If you are eligible for DIC, you may also be eligible for the following benefits:
- Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA)
- Dependents Educational Assistance (DEA)
- Burial Benefits (note: benefits may be a reduced amount if cause of death was not service-connected)
How Long Does Dependency and Indemnity Compensation Last?
Once granted, DIC is permanent for surviving spouses, unless the surviving spouse remarries prior to turning 57 years of age.
For surviving children, DIC usually lasts until the age of 18 (or 23 if the child is still in school). “Helpless” adult children might also be entitled to DIC.
More Questions About DIC? Call Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD Today
If you have additional questions about VA benefits for surviving spouses, it is best to talk to a VA disability attorney. The legal team at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD is happy to help. To schedule a free consultation, call 401-331-6300.