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VA Benefits for Dependents

Video Transcription:

Maura Clancy: Hello everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today for our CCK live discussion. My name is Maura Clancy. I am an attorney at CCK and I am joined today by Michelle Detore and Alyse Phillips, also of CCK.

Today, we are going to be discussing VA benefits for dependents. We do have a number of topics that are sort of broken down into groups because there are a lot of different benefits that dependents of Veterans should be aware of. We are going to try to go through the general eligibility requirements for those different benefits. We do have several resources on our website. I am going to start and will probably say this multiple times by referring you to our website at cck-law.com. We also have the ability to answer any questions that you might have. If you would like to reach out to us with any questions about our discussion today, please feel free to do so by leaving a comment or otherwise getting in touch with us through the website. Without further ado, Michelle can we please have some information from you about what a dependent is and who would qualify as a dependent for the purposes of the type of benefits we are talking about today.

Michelle Detore: Yes. One of the most common benefits for dependents and it is dependency benefits of the Veterans rated at thirty percent or more. They are entitled to dependency benefits, for a spouse in some states, because they recognize common law marriage. A common law marriage get dependency for that person. You can also get them for children under the age of eighteen, adopted children, children that are eighteen to twenty-three and in school and then you can also get it for children that are disabled or became disabled before they are eighteenth birthday. That is typically adding an additional amount to your monthly compensation. It is paid differently depending on which type of dependent it is. You would see a little bit of a variation with it, but that is the most standard dependency that we see usually.

Maura: I think it is worth noting too, Michelle, that although we are going to be talking about a lot of different specific, so different types of programs for dependents, different types of benefits, it is important to note the initial threshold. For compensation purposes, if a Veteran is receiving a thirty percent disability rating, that will entitle the Veteran for dependency benefits if the Veteran has eligible dependents. Alyse, we wanted to talk about health care and insurance benefits because health care benefits are things that can extend not just to Veterans but also to eligible dependents. Can you lead us through some of the different programs that are available?

Alyse Phillips: Yes. There is a few different types of health care and insurance programs available to families of military members. The first one to talk about is Tricare. That is offered through the DOD and it is available to family members of both active duty service members as well as current National Guard and Reserve members. It is also available to family members of retired and deceased service members from all those branches. This is really a Comprehensive Health care Program. It is health coverage. It includes health care plans, prescriptions, dental plans and special need assistance. Again, that is Tricare. For more information on that, I am going to direct you to tricare.mil just because it is complex as far as what benefits you are entitled to. It depends on what your beneficiary category is. If you visit that website, we will link it down below in the comment section, but that will give you some more information about your specific eligibility.

The next we are going to talk about is CHAMPVA or Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs. That is from the VA as opposed to the DOD. If you do not qualify for Tricare, you may qualify for this program. This is more specifically for dependents of Veterans who are permanently and totally disabled. That includes whether a Veteran is living or has passed away or dependents of deceased Veterans that died due to a service-connected disability. This is going to cover things such as emergency services, inpatient medical care as well as prescriptions and other benefits. Again, we are going to link information about this program down below because just like with Tricare, your eligibility is going to change depending on what your specific circumstance is.

There is some other health care programs out there. Basically, those are going to exist for families for Veterans that were exposed to certain toxins. There is a Camp Lejeune Family Member Program. There is a Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program. There is also the Children of Women Vietnam Veterans Health Care Benefits Program. Again, we will include information on all of those below, but there are other health care programs out there other than just the two that we discussed today.

Maura: Great. One program that we definitely wanted to specifically mention today was the Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance Benefit. We refer to this as DEA benefits. DEA benefits are part of the GI bill that offers special benefits for education programs for dependents of Veterans. Assuming that a Veteran has an eligible dependent, which were the types of persons that Michelle talked about when we first started the discussion today, then VA might decide that the Veteran because of their service-connected conditions is eligible for DEA for the Veterans dependents. The type of educational programs that are covered by the DEA benefit if a Veteran is eligible include schooling, college courses, university courses, tutorial assistance, which is actually interesting. I did not know that before today’s discussion. There is a lot of other certification programs, job training programs, work study, a lot of different types of education. It is not just college. It is not just formal college courses or even high school courses. There is a lot of different ways that the DEA benefit can extend to an eligible dependent. The way that Veterans become eligible for DEA benefits for their dependents.

One of the primary ways that we see Veterans becoming eligible as if they are rated as permanently and totally disabled. We typically see this in cases where the Veteran has a scheduler one hundred percent rating and has also been deemed permanently and totally disabled by the VA. We also see the circumstances if a Veteran has been granted TDIU or Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability. If the Veteran has that rating and also VA has determined that their conditions are permanent in total in nature, then VA will usually just find that the Veteran is also entitled to DEA. That being said, if the Veteran would like to seek DEA benefits, there is a specific VA form, the 22-5490. Again, we usually see VA get this correctly if the Veteran is otherwise eligible for DEA benefits, but that is the operative form. If you need to file one or think you might be entitled to something that you are not already getting. Other additional ways that Veterans can get the DEA benefit, so in other words, ways that dependents become entitled to the benefit through the Veteran is if the Veteran passes away due to a service-connected condition or if the Veteran passes away on active duty or if the Veteran is rated as permanently totally disabled at the time of their death. It does not matter what the cause of their death was, just that they were permanently and totally disabled at that time.

There are a number of different limitations on the use of the benefit. One of the questions that we get is what span of time is the benefit active for. Can a dependent just take advantage of the benefit at any time? That kind of depends on when they begin to use it, if there are any gaps in schooling or educational programs. Generally speaking, the benefit will cover up to about forty-five months of education, but you should definitely refer to VA’s website or our website where we have included all of those criteria as to how long the benefit is actually available for the dependent. Michelle, I want to come back to you to talk about VA’s Program for Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. Can you talk about what that program offers and what the eligibility requirements are?

Michelle: Sure. The Caregiver Program essentially provides support to caregivers of disabled parents. This is something you want to be interested in filing for. You can actually apply online through caregiver.va.gov. There is a form on there. You what you can do by mail to, but they actually give you the option to do it through the website. It is 10-10 CG. You can also apply online, but obviously with the current pandemic right now, most VA regional offices are not intended for walk-in. Your primary options would be either mailing it or doing it online.

How are you eligible for the program? You have to be a Veteran and that you have to be at least seventy percent service-connected with a disability rating. You need to have personal care for at least six months, so you did not have an inability to perform your activities of daily living. You need supervision or protection or basically, you need someone to help you maintain safe from the hazards or dangers of daily living. You could currently receive home care or with the help of this program, which this is something I do like, is with the help of this program, you will receive it. I think it is good that it does not eliminate the fact that somebody maybe cannot afford yet to provide the care. But if they were awarded this benefit, they might be able to. The good thing with this also was until recently, it was only available to Veterans from September 11, 2001 to the present. But now, as of this year, it is going to be opened back up to Veterans that are from May 7th, 1975 and after. It will say they are phasing in some of the periods right now, I believe. They are starting with the 1975 and they will move on from there.

Who is an eligible caregiver? It is the same dependents we were talking about in the beginning which is your child. However, your child has to be, for this category, eighteen years old. A child, a spouse, a parent. This gets a little more Broad in the fact that it can be a stepfamily member, extended family or someone that lives at the Veteran full-time or is willing to be a designated caregiver. This actually does not need to be a family member. It does open up who could be eligible for it beyond just dependents of a veteran. What does the Act actually give somebody? It gives them education or training. Go through a kind of a program to make sure that you can successfully become a caregiver for somebody and give you the education you might need to in order to be a caregiver. There is a monthly stipend. The stipend, there is two different levels depending on how disabled VA believes the Veteran might be. When I was looking at the numbers, it looks like it is really anywhere from about one thousand seven hundred to about two thousand eight hundred a month. It is a good amount of money to help provide care to somebody. I think VA based on a certain level of VA employee. They kind of almost consider you are not that you are but it is almost like you are considered getting employment benefits almost. They also pay travel, lodging and financial assistance for traveling to receive care for the Veteran. You also get access to CHAMPVA, which Alyse was referencing earlier if you do not otherwise have health care for VA.

Mental health services and counseling for caregivers because a lot of times it is when a Veteran is disabled, it is not only taxing on the Veteran, but sometimes as well the caregiver. It does give some counseling and support groups for you. Up to thirty days of respite care as well is given. There are a few different things that come along with the program on top of the monthly stipend. Like I said, a good website to go to is the caregiver.va.gov. They actually have a lot of frequently asked questions. They have some brochures on it. I believe it is a very good place to go if you want some additional information on it and especially to see if you might be eligible for it.

Maura: Great. Thanks, Michelle. I think it is important to note, like you said before, that this program was only open to a certain class of Veterans from a certain era. You mentioned, Michelle, it was 2001 and forward. That was sort of recent. I remember I was talking about that on other videos in the past. But now, it is nice to know that it has been opened up much farther into the past. It is now serving more Veterans, which is great that it is available for more people now. Alyse, we want to turn it to you and talk about Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. What is that? It is not exactly an intuitive title and how might Veterans be eligible for it or their dependents more importantly be eligible for that benefit.

Alyse: Sure. DIC is a tax-free monthly paid benefits to a surviving spouse, surviving children and even sometimes parents of a Veteran. most typically this is someone who has died related to military service or a service-connected condition. To be eligible for this benefit, both the Veteran who has passed away and the recipient need to meet certain qualification. As far as the Veteran, it needs to be like I had just referenced a service member that either died while on active duty, active duty training or inactive duty training or a Veteran that died due to a service-connected condition. Even if they did not die from a service-connected condition, you can still be eligible. If you do receive VA compensation that meets either schedule early or based on TDIU a one hundred percent rating. I will say, for that, it is not anyone who has a one hundred percent rating. You have to have had that one hundred percent rating for at least ten years before death. There is some other qualifications or if you had a hundred percent since release of active duty and at least five years immediately before death. Another limited category is if you have had a one hundred percent rating for one year, but if you were a former POW who died after September 30th, 1999. We are going to link below those specific qualifications as I know they are pretty specific. Actually, on our website, we do have a nice flow chart that makes it pretty easy to understand which Veterans are eligible.

On the side of the beneficiary spouses, there are also certain qualifications for that. Again, we are going to link that down below because there are several different qualifications, but generally, spouses are eligible. Even if you are actually not currently married, you can still potentially be eligible so long as you are not currently remarried. Again, we will link that below. As far as children, most basically it has to be someone who is under the age of eighteen or under the age of twenty-three, if they are attending school still. Parents are also eligible if they are biological, adoptive or a foster parent. Unlike what we were talking about before, here you do have to be related either legally or biologically to obtain this benefit. Like I said, we are going to link that down below for the more specifics as some of are more complicated qualifications. Generally, it is something that is available to surviving spouses, children and parents.

Maura: Great. Something that goes hand-in-hand with DIC or Dependency and Indemnity Compensation is accrued benefits. We see in our practice if one of our clients is the Veteran and the Veteran happens to pass away. What we start to think about is whether there is a case to make for DIC, as Alyse was just describing or whether there is something that we can do for any surviving dependent of the Veteran. We call that separate class of benefits, accrued benefits. What are accrued benefits? Accrued benefits are benefits that would have been paid to the Veteran had they survived and they would be benefits that would be due and owing to the Veterans stemming from a pending claim or appeal. If the Veteran had filed a claim for benefits, let us just say the Veteran filed a claim for service connection for a traumatic brain injury prior to their death, and that claim remains open and pending. Maybe the Veteran received a denial and timely appealed it. While that appeal is pending, if the Veteran passes away, an eligible dependent has the chance to be substituted in to the Veterans appeal that was pending at the time of death. This has to be done within a year of the Veteran’s death.

It is not an open-ended thing. VA is not going to hold cases open indefinitely in case someone decides that they would like to take advantage of the fact that the Veteran had a pending appeal at the time of their death. It is within a year an eligible survivor makes a claim for accrued benefits or specifically asked VA to continue on adjudicating the claim or appeal that was pending when the Veteran passed away. This person can be substituted and can basically serve as the appellant or the claimant. There are some limitations on what a substitute can receive if the claim is eventually granted. In that instance I mentioned, the VA decides that service connection was warranted for the Veteran’s traumatic brain injury, the eligible survivor can receive the retroactive award that would have been paid to the Veteran, just no future benefits of the Veteran might have had. Say they rated the Veteran at a hundred percent, the survivor is not going to be able to get the one hundred percent payments monthly going forward like the Veteran would have, but they would be able to get any accrued benefits. Anything that had sort of been piling up while the Veteran was still alive and pursuing the claim or the appeal.

The people that are eligible to make a claim for accrued benefits include a surviving spouse. After a surviving spouse, VA will receive claims were accrued benefits from dependent children. As Alyse mentioned before, if the child is under the age of eighteen, they are eligible dependent or if the child is between eighteen and twenty-three years old and is attending school. Dependent parents are actually another class of persons that can be eligible for accrued benefits if they make the claim for accrued benefits within a year. It is just that if there is multiple dependent children and multiple dependent parents in either example, that the accrued benefits should they be determined to be due and owing to the Veteran would be paid and shared. They would have to be split among those parties. This is something to be aware of, if in the very unfortunate circumstance, a Veteran does pass away and you are trying to assess whether there is any ability to pick up sort of where the Veteran had left off on a pending claim or appeal.

We know that the VA can be very slow to adjudicate things. Things might be open and pending for several years. It is unfortunately pretty common that a Veteran might pass away with something in a pending state. It is important to note that there are definitely circumstances under which a survivor can pick up with that appeal and can keep pursuing it. Again, we are going to refer to our website. We keep doing that because these requirements with these different types of event benefits are very specific. They are not really intuitive or self-explanatory. Please feel free to access our website. I know we have a lot of information about both DIC and accrued benefits there for your reference. Michelle, something also a little bit similar but in the pension world, so outside of the compensation benefits world, is the possibility of a survivor’s pension. Can you talk to us about what that benefit is and who it might be available to?

Michelle: Yes. This benefit is a tax-free needs-based program. It is for basically widows or children in a low-income household. There are certain criteria for it.
We are talking about the same dependents we were talking we have been talking about throughout the process here. There is only one restriction for spouses that gets added here is you cannot be remarried yet, but you can still be a child under the age of eighteen, a child eighteen to twenty-three in school and a child that became disabled before their eighteenth birthday. This is one that is based on the Veteran service. It is based on the fact that the Veteran service could not be dishonorable. The Veteran had to have active duty during a wartime period. VA considers wartime periods primarily to be World War II, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam War and the Gulf War. There is two different criteria for how long their period of service had to be. I think it is prior to 1980. It was ninety days of active duty. From 1980 on, it is twenty-four days of consecutive service or that they fulfilled their active duty requirements, so how much time they were called upon to be active during that period.

There are some restrictions that do apply. Again, we will put the comments down below, the criteria for it. It is just good to be mindful of that. There are some factors VA does take into consideration. Obviously, your income matters, your property value matters, stock, stuff like that does matter. Based on all those variables, how much are you getting, it will depend. It depends on, like I said, the income. It depends on how many dependents you have. It depends on what you have for assets. It also depends if you, yourself, need a date of attendance because you need assistance with your activities of daily living. That amount becomes increased. A lot of factors go into kind of establishing what the amount is, but it is there if you need it in a low-income situation and it does not require that the Veteran have a condition that is already related to service. It is based on Veterans service and then your relationship to the Veteran.

How do you apply for it? You would submit a VA form 21-534 to VA. You can obtain the form online. You normally would be able to go in person. Obviously right now, that is a little limited. You would want to likely just be submitting the form here. But this is another benefit of the agency. I think one thing to be mindful with this is that you cannot get multiple types of benefits with some of these. Some of these cross each other out because this is a needs-based program. It is based on income. If you are getting like what you talked about, Alyse, DIC, the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation. It kind of cancels each other out because VA only goes by how much you can receive and they do set a limit on it, which are, again, specific numbers and stuff like that we will put below.

Maura: Great. Alyse, can you talk to us about burial benefits? This is something that we do get questions on quite a bit. What sort of things are available through the burial benefits.

Alyse: Sure. That is one other thing that is available to surviving dependents. It is going to be the burial benefits. There is two main associations that deal with these types of benefits. The first is going to be the VA, the Veterans Benefits System. The second is going to be the national cemetery Administration. We will start with the second. The National Cemetery Administration, actually, what they do is they manage cemeteries where you can be buried as a Veteran or as also a surviving spouse of a Veteran. They really deal more with the actual burial, he gravesite and things like the gravestone. Whereas the Veterans Benefits System is going to be more of an actual compensation. They will be providing funds for burial. It is important to note that the National Cemetery Administration does not deal with actual funerals. Like I said, it is mostly just the gravesite. For eligibility, we are going to link that right down below just because that is another trickier one, but it is good to know that both of those avenues are available to surviving dependents.

Maura: There are a couple of other sort of miscellaneous benefits that we just want to mention just for people’s awareness and while we are talking about the topic. There are additional compensation benefits. I think we mentioned this in the beginning, but just a reminder. The most common type of dependency benefit that we see is the benefit that attaches when a Veteran is rated at thirty percent or more for service-connected disabilities. This is something that Michelle touched on. We have been talking a lot about what benefits are available when Veterans are unfortunately deceased or when they are rated as permanently and totally disabled. But just as a reminder, Veterans can receive dependency benefits as part of their regular monthly compensation if they are rated at thirty percent or more through the Veterans Benefits Administration. That is definitely the most common type of dependency benefit that is probably out there just because it is available to a lot of different Veterans who have even just a thirty percent rating or higher. We just wanted to make sure that we were aware that the things that we are talking about are all in addition to that.

There are also home loan opportunities through the VA. This is another thing that I was not actually super familiar with before today’s discussion, but worth noting that there are certain home loans for Veterans and their dependents if, unfortunately, the Veteran is missing in action, a prisoner of war or has passed away from a service-connected disability. Those home loan opportunities can extend to dependents in those circumstances. In addition, one more thing if the Veteran is rated as permanently and totally disabled, that is another way to qualify dependents for the home loan benefits. I wanted to mention one more thing. I think I mentioned it in the discussion about accrued benefits. Those are the benefits that are available to dependents if eligible dependents, if a Veteran passes away, but has a claim or appeal pending and if there are benefits due and owing to the Veteran at the time of their death. Substitution is something that can be a little bit confusing procedurally. If someone is seeking accrued benefits, what they have to do is basically ask VA to formally substitute them in to the claimer appeal that was pending at the time of the Veteran’s death.

What happens with substitution is that we often see, although not consistently, VA will send specific decisions that adjudicate the issue of substitution. They might send you a decisional document that says that your request for substitution has been granted. That can create confusion because substitution, on its own, does not necessarily entitle anyone to an additional benefit. It just means that VA recognizes the person being substituted as an eligible dependent or an eligible substitute. If your decision only talks about substitution, it may not be the case that you have succeeded on the accrued benefits claim that you had been pursuing. It does not automatically follow in every case that you are entitled to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation either. Just something to be mindful of, if you are receiving correspondence from the VA that references substitution, it is definitely important to be substituted in if you are pursuing an accrued benefits claim, but it does not always carry any type of monetary benefit with that issue alone. I want to turn it back to Michelle and Alyse just to see if they have any closing thoughts or any advice for people that are watching today.

Alyse: Sure. One thing that we did not really touch upon is when determining the way that someone died and if they died by a service-connected condition, what VA will do is they will often look to the death certificate. When you do get that death certificate, it is a very challenging time, but take a look at it and make sure that it is complete. Make sure that accurately describes the cause of death because if it does not, you can actually get it amended by the doctor. It is really important that it is accurate and especially, if the Veteran died of a service-connected condition. It is very important that that is reflected in the death certificate.

Michelle: Yes. I would say one thing that I think is important as we just talked about a whole bunch of different benefits, it is complicated and it is complex in the fact that certain things make you acquired, certain things make you ineligible. It is always good to reach out to a representative, service organization attorney, [inaudible] practitioner and have a conversation about what benefits you might be entitled to go beyond compensation. Unfortunately, if a Veteran does pass away, it is very good to also reach out to see what options you have available. Whether you could be you know substituted as a claimant in accrued benefits, whether you have a claim for service connection for the cause of the Veteran’s death, whether you would be entitled to pension benefits, whatever it may be, it is always good to find out what your options are, especially because there are all these programs out there to help people and help spouses of disabled Veterans and dependents.

Maura: I totally agree with those points. One thing that I would add, very similar to what you had said, Michelle, is to be aware of any specific forms that VA is asking for. We say this a lot but I think in this context, it is particularly relevant that VA is very adherent to the forms that they use. If you simply write into the VA and request a certain benefit, they are most likely going to get back to you and ask you to file the appropriate form. Sometimes, they do not even give you all the information about what form is needed. If your request is specific enough, they might figure out what it is that you are looking for and send you the forms to fill out. VA has all the forms on their website. I believe if you type in va.gov – do not quote me on this – but something like it simple as slash forms. Either way, if you go on the va.gov website, you can find the PDFs for the documents that you might need to fill out. I would just say if VA is asking you for a form, it is better to comply with that when you are looking for these very specific types of benefits that are available for dependents, just because they sometimes will not proceed without the correct form. You do not want to assume that they are going to have to adjudicate your request if they are specifically saying that they do not have all the information that they need. Forms are critical across the board at VA, but I think, like I said, particularly, in this context where there is a lot of very specific types of benefits that dependents can be seeking.

That is all that we have today. Thank you all so much for joining us. Please feel free again to access any information on our website, cck-law.com. We hope you all have a great day.