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Dependency & Indemnity Compensation (DIC) Explained

Video Transcription:

Courtney Ross: Good afternoon, and welcome to CCK live. I am Courtney Ross and joining me today is Emma Peterson and Kayla D’Onofrio. And today we are going to be talking about Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. So, Kayla, I am going to turn to you first. We are going to refer to it as DIC for the ease of the conversation throughout the presentation. Can you tell us a little bit about what DIC is?

Kayla D’Onofrio: DIC is a monthly benefit that VA can award to a veteran surviving spouse or an eligible dependent child after their passing. Like I said, it is a monthly benefit, but it is important to note that it is completely separate from any benefits that the veteran may have been receiving prior to their passing if they were service-connected they were also getting a monthly benefit. But unfortunately, those benefits do terminate from the time that they pass away and DIC would be a separate monthly benefit that could be awarded to their surviving spouse or child. And we are going to talk a lot more about how one is eligible and the actual amounts for the DIC. But that’s kind of very broadly what it is.

Courtney: So to determine eligibility for DIC, there are multiple things you have to look at. You have to look first to the veteran a number of factors to make sure that the veteran would have been or the veteran status makes a dependent eligible. And then you also have to look to the dependents themselves to consider eligibility. So we are going to walk through those different things to consider starting first with what you need to look for when it comes to the veterans, specifically to determine DIC eligibility. Emma, can you talk a little bit about those specifics?

Emma Peterson: Sure. So there are separate criteria that both the deceased veteran service member need to meet and then the resulting dependent need to meet in order for that dependent to get DIC benefits. So for the qualifications for the veteran, they need to have either died in action or died from a service-connected condition. So for example, a veteran is service-connected for our cancer and ultimately passed away from that cancer, their dependent, if eligible, would be entitled to the DIC benefits. For some additional criteria that can be met on the veteran’s behalf to earn DIC benefits for their surviving dependents. So if a veteran was service-connected at a hundred percent; either a hundred percent combined rating, a single condition at a hundred percent for disability, or they were receiving total disability due to individual unemployability TDIU for at least 10 years or more prior to their death under 38 USC 1318, their dependent can get DIC benefit. So VA’s going to treat their death as if it was service-connected. If a veteran, unfortunately, passes within five years of their date of discharge from active duty. Their dependent can receive DIC benefits or if they pass away within one year of being a former POW. Obviously, that would probably sync up with them five years from the date of discharge. But those are the ways that a veteran can satisfy what is necessary for their dependents to receive benefits after their death.

Courtney: Thank you, Emma. So that is the first piece of it. The second piece is looking at the dependent themselves who is applying for the DIC benefits. So for a surviving spouse, there are a number of criteria that you would want to consider to see if you are eligible and the primary focus is going to be on the marriage to the veteran. So for example, a surviving spouse will be eligible for DIC if they were married to a service member who died while on active duty or active duty for training or inactive duty for training, if they were legally married to the veteran before January 1st, 1957 or if they were married to the veteran within fifteen years of military discharge when the service-connected condition that caused the veteran’s death began or was aggravated, or the spouse was married to the veteran for at least one year preceding the veteran’s death. In addition to the marriage requirement, there are some requirements regarding continuous cohabitation with the veteran as well. So that is specific to a surviving spouse. So, Kayla, if a surviving spouse is awarded DIC benefits and then they eventually remarry. Does that have any impact on those DIC benefits?

Kayla: It can. So in general, if the surviving spouse does remarry, VA will discontinue those benefits but there are some exceptions to that rule in the event that they remarry and that remarriage does end in death, divorce, or an annulment the DIC benefits can be restored from the date of the termination of that marriage. Also, if a surviving spouse remarries after reaching the age of fifty-seven, that should not have an impact on their DIC benefits and they can continue their DIC benefits moving forward. But if that marriage does happen before they turn fifty-seven, they will no longer be eligible even once they turn fifty-seven if that marriage is still ongoing, the benefit will not be restored unless that marriage were to end. So there are some exceptions to it. But in general, VA will discontinue those benefits.

Courtney: And what if the eligible dependent is not the spouse of the veteran, but rather the surviving children of the veteran who are applying for the DIC benefits? Kayla, what are the criteria to consider for surviving children?

Kayla: The criteria is actually really similar to what it would be for a veteran claiming dependency for that child. So first and foremost, if they are under the age of eighteen or between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three, and they are attending a VA-approved school, they may be eligible for the DIC benefit. Or they were considered helpless or permanently incapacitated before they turned eighteen and there usually is medical evidence required to show that, they would be eligible as well. Even if they fall within those requirements, they do have to be unmarried in order to continue to receive those benefits. So unmarried and then otherwise a minor child.

Courtney: For more specific information on the criteria, or if you want to review it, please visit our blog, we are going to leave the link to that specific blog in the comment section, so if you want to read a little bit more, you can find the link there. So if a veteran or a veteran’s dependent is granted DIC benefits, other than the exception that Kayla talked about in terms of remarrying if your surviving spouse, how long do the DIC benefits last, Emma?

Emma: Once it is granted, it will be permanent for the surviving spouse, which is good news. So, you know for the rest of your life, you will be receiving DIC benefits unless you remarry before turning fifty-seven. For children, DIC usually lasts until you turn eighteen or twenty-three if you continue on through higher school. Helpless children and adult children would be entitled to receive DIC similar to the way the surviving spouse will be entitled, as long as they continue to meet that status.

Courtney: Okay. So, I want to back up a little bit. Let us say we have determined eligibility or dependent has determined their eligibility for now, when should they apply for DIC? If their veteran spouse or parent is now deceased and they reviewed the criteria, they believe that they fit into it. How quickly should they file for DIC?

Emma: Like everything would be a benefit, you want to apply as soon as possible. So, if you are able to apply within one year from the date of the veteran’s death and you qualify, benefits will be paid retroactively from the month after the veteran’s death. So typically, the family will receive one final payment for the veteran disability benefits if they were receiving that, and then they will continue to receive DIC benefits from there. So the sooner you apply the better because then there could potentially be an uninterrupted stream of monthly compensation which is really vital and important to so many families out there. But if you do not file within a year, you did not know these benefits were available, or just for whatever reason, you did not have time to do it, you can still apply later. That is not a problem. But the effective date of your DIC benefit will most likely be the date that you file that application when VA receives your form. There are some special rules out there for survivors of Vietnam. Veterans who meet the Nehmer Class Definition and as well as, now the Blue Water Act Legislation, Naval Vietnam Veterans for those surviving widows and dependents of those folks that entitle them to special effective date rules. So be sure to reach out to a VSO, an accredited rep, an attorney, a friend, whoever you work with on these claims because it can get a little tricky especially for those folks.

Courtney: So as far as how to actually apply, if you are the spouse of a veteran who died on active duty or a training exercise, VA should assign you a Casualty Assistance Officer who can help with that application. Otherwise, VA has a specific form that is required to submit for the application. It is VA form 21P-534EZ. So you want to complete that form to include if you are filing for cause of death, which we will talk about shortly in more detail. And in addition to this form, some information you want to think about including or submitting with the form as well is any evidence to support; one, that you meet the criteria for a surviving dependent, that the veteran has met the criteria, and any other evidence that is going to be necessary to establish your entitlement to DIC. So for example, some documents you might want to consider submitting include the veteran’s death certificate that shows what his cause of death was or her cause of death, was marriage certificate if applicable, any prior divorce decrees if applicable; if it is the dependent child that is applying, things like a birth certificate are going to be an important document to submit, any school or college transcript, if it is a college-aged child. Again, it is really thinking about what evidence is going to be helpful to establish your entitlement to DIC, and submitting it with the form at the time of your application can help to move the adjudication process along. So something else to consider. I mentioned if you are filling out the form and you are filing for service connection for the cause of death to prove DIC, you want to make sure that is indicated on the form. So, Kayla, I am going to turn to you to talk a little bit about proving the cause of death for DIC purposes.

Kayla: Yeah, so like we have talked about, one of the ways that you can be eligible for DIC benefits is by proving that the veteran’s death was related to their service. In some cases, this is very straightforward in other cases, it is not so much. The most straightforward way to prove that would be through the death certificate. If the death certificate has the cause of death listed as one of the veteran’s service-connected conditions then that can be listed under either the primary or the contributory cause of death, that should be a fairly straightforward grant from VA. Usually without too much back and forth, and that should be pretty easy to get. However, we know that it is not always quite so straightforward. Sometimes we do have to do a little bit more argument to prove that relationship. So if the condition is not specifically listed on the death certificate, one of the veteran’s service-connected conditions, if the eligible dependent can still show that one of their service-connected conditions did contribute to their cause of death in a substantial and material way, it can still get granted. So for example, one of the more common things that we might see is that the veteran’s death certificate lists that they passed away from a stroke and they were previously service-connected for something like diabetes, which is a pretty well-known risk factor for having a stroke. So in a case like that, it may be helpful to get some additional medical evidence, possibly a Nexus from a medical professional in that field to provide a link between the service-connected condition and the condition that caused their death to still get that death service-connected for DIC purposes. So sometimes it is very straightforward, sometimes it is not so much but there are still ways to get around it.

Courtney: And Emma, what if a dependent thinks they have a theory that fits into what Kayla was just describing, but the conditions involved are not yet service-connected, is there a way to still establish entitlement to DIC in that type of scenario?

Emma: Absolutely. So a widow, surviving spouses, children can still establish service-connection for the purposes of establishing entitlement to DIC benefits. So these claims take a little bit longer to process because the first step is going to prove that the disability the veteran died from should have been service-connected. For example, sometimes we see it a lot with our Vietnam-era folks who did not apply for example PTSD during their lifetime, it just was not something they wanted to do or needed to do and it ended up being a contributory cause of death in some respect. Their surviving dependent can apply for service-connection after the fact, and if it should be service-connected then they will be entitled to receive DIC benefits going forward. They will not be entitled to get retroactive disability benefits for that condition, but they can use it just for the purposes of establishing DIC. Same thing with filing an acute claim which we have a lot of information on our website and blogs about clear and unmistakable claims. You can file one of those out of time on behalf of just establishing DIC benefits. Another way in which a dependent can establish in terms of the DAC benefits for conditions that were not service-connected at the time of death is for presumptive conditions. So for example, Agent Orange Exposure in Vietnam leads to a number of presumptive conditions, and that gets updated every couple of years, ten years or so. So a spouse, dependent child, whoever the case may be that qualifies as a dependent could then file for DIC benefits if they then meet the criteria for a new presumptive condition.

Courtney: And I think it is important to note too or just to circle back to what we mentioned before about making sure that when you filed the 534 forms with VA applying for DIC benefits, there is a specific question that asks about whether you are asking for service connection for the cause of death and so you want to make sure that question is answered appropriately and it is the same form you will use whether a condition is already service-connected as Kayla spoke about or a condition is not yet service-connected but you are able to link it for purposes of entitlement to DIC. So just keep that in mind, too. As far as how much the DIC compensation rate is, we talked about that it is a monthly payment that once it is granted, will be an ongoing payment in the future. As of December 2020, the monthly DIC rate is one thousand three hundred eighty-seven dollars and fifty-six cents and in addition to that standard monthly amount, dependents can be eligible for a slightly higher amount depending on a number of factors that may or may not apply; one is if the veteran was totally disabled for eight years leading up to the veteran’s death. Another is if the dependent requires an aid in attendance; so needs the help of others for daily activities of living. There is also a household allowance, so if the dependent is unable to pay the house. For each of these, there’s a different additional rate. So for example, if the dependent needed the aid in attendance that I indicated, it is just over
three hundred dollars of additional monthly compensation that you would be eligible for. So those are things to keep in mind too in addition. Once DIC is granted and you are receiving that flat monthly rate to consider that there might be additional compensation you can get monthly as well if you are eligible for any of those. Along the same lines, Kayla, once the individual is granted DIC, are there any other potential benefits? Apart from the higher DIC monthly payment that they might be entitled to?

Kayla: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the programs that they might be eligible for is called the Civilian Health and Medical Program through the Department of Veterans Affairs or we would say CHAMPVA for short, which is basically a reimbursement program for some of the health services that a dependent may need, things like ambulance services or pharmacy costs, things of that nature. They may be able to get some reimbursement for those. DEA benefits are also something that could be available. So if prior to the veteran’s death, they were considered permanently and totally disabled, meaning that they had either that one hundred percent disability rating or they were receiving the unemployability benefit and VA found that their disabilities were permanent, meaning they were not likely to improve, the surviving dependents may be eligible to get reimbursement for education, for schooling. work-study programs, other sorts of certifications, and training programs. And also burial benefits and this is for both the surviving dependent themselves as well as for reimbursement for some of the costs associated with the veteran’s burial. So there are some other benefits. Those are not by any means an exhaustive list of additional benefits that can be available, but those are a few, just off the top of our head.

Courtney: And we do have other resources and videos that we have done on surviving dependents’ benefits. And so you can also check those out on our blog and our website if you want more information on those. So with that Kayla or Emma, do you have any final thoughts?

Emma: I would just caution people applying for this to just be ready for the fact that you need to satisfy both those requirements, the veteran requirements and the dependent requirements at the time the veteran died. We have some unfortunate cases where surviving spouses call and they were married to the veteran for a number of years, for whatever reason at the time of death they have divorced or separated, did not meet that cohabitation rule and VA is now denying them, and it can be quite a shock. The same thing for dependent children who you know, maybe they should have filed years ago or rather their veteran parents passed away after they turned eighteen or twenty-three, it can again be quite a shock thinking you are going to get benefits and then you do not. So just be sure to look at the rules, make sure you satisfy both those requirements first, and talk to someone about it when you are preparing these applications because it can be a nasty shock to find out that VA is not going to recognize you as a dependent.

Kayla: And I would just echo what Emma said and do not be afraid to ask for help if you are not sure what needs to be submitted or what you may be eligible for, in addition to the DIC benefits. We talked about just a couple of examples of additional benefits that you could be eligible for. So reaching out to a VSO or an accredited representative or an attorney may be able to point you in the right direction for some other benefits that you may be eligible for as well.

Courtney: Thank you all so much for joining me today. That covers everything that we wanted to discuss as part of this broadcast. This has been another CCK live and thank you all for watching.