Veteran Advisor - Survivor Benefits

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News May 2017

There’s always a lingering question of what happens to surviving family members when a veteran passes away.

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Taking care of their families is a key priority for many of the men and women who have served and continue to serve in the United States military. Many who’ve served receive benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help support themselves and their loved ones. However, there’s always a lingering question of what happens to surviving family members when a veteran passes away. 

DIC Payment

The Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is a monthly payment to a surviving spouse, child or parent based on the cause of the veteran’s death due to service-connected causes. To be eligible to receive DIC, a family member must qualify as a surviving spouse, child or dependent parent under VA regulations. For a spouse to qualify for DIC, he or she must have a valid marriage license and have been married to the veteran for at least one year. The spouse must have lived with the veteran continuously until his or her death, or, if there was a separation, the claimant must not be found to have been at fault and not have remarried.  For a child to be eligible, he or she must be an unmarried child of a veteran and under age 18 or between ages 18 and 26 while attending school. 

The VA will make a decision by using the veteran’s death certificate whether a condition was, or could have been, service-connected, whether the condition caused or contributed to the death, and, thus, whether the claimant is eligible for DIC. The benefit is also payable in cases in which a veteran has a permanent and total disability rating from a service-connected condition or conditions for 10 years immediately prior to death or five years if the total disability rating was effective from the date of discharge.

Survivors Pension

Non-service-connected death benefits are Survivors Pension or “widow pension” payments for low-income surviving spouses and surviving dependent children. The basic eligibility criteria for this pension benefit is that the survivor must demonstrate financial need and must not have excessive net worth. Net worth includes assets such as bank accounts, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, annuities and any property besides a primary residence and reasonable lot area. The VA will determine whether your assets are sufficiently large enough that you could live off of them for a reasonable period of time. The survivor’s countable income includes income from most sources, as well as from any eligible dependents living in the household. It generally includes earnings, disability and retirement payments, interest and dividend payments from annuities and net income from farming or business. Some expenses, such as unreimbursed medical expenses, may reduce your countable income. 

The survivor must first submit proof of his or her relationship to the veteran. The Survivors Pension is calculated to be an amount equal to the difference between your countable family income and the annual pension limit set by Congress. If, for example, the annual income limit on Dec. 1, 2005, for a spouse without a dependent, as set by Congress, is $7,094 and your income is $6,000, your VA Survivors Pension will be $1,094 ($7,094 - $6,000 = $1,094) paid in monthly installments. If your total countable income is more than the $7,094 in this example, then you are not eligible for VA Survivors Pension for that year. You may reapply anytime your countable income falls below the limit. A portion of your unreimbursed medical expenses (what you paid out of pocket after medical insurance pays) may reduce your countable income. You can apply the portion of your unreimbursed medical expenses only if the expenses exceed 5% of the maximum annual rate allowed by Congress. 

Accrued Benefits

Some people wonder, “Do my benefits stop after I die?” or “Does my family still receive my benefits after I’m gone?” These already received benefits are called Accrued Benefits. Accrued Benefits that were payable at the time of a claimant’s death can be paid to a survivor, provided that all of the evidence necessary to secure entitlement to the benefit was with the file at the time of death. The evidence doesn’t necessarily have to be in the Legacy file (C-file), as long as it was in the possession of the VA before the veteran’s death.  

Unfortunately, a veteran’s spouse or family can’t submit supporting evidence for a claim after the veteran has passed. Veterans discharged with other-than-dishonorable condition who served after Sept. 8, 1980, must have served 24 months on active duty or the full period for which they were brought on active duty. Veterans discharged prior to that date have no minimum time served requirement to be eligible for headstones, markers and medallions, including those wishing to be buried in a VA national cemetery.  

For more information, visit 

David Best is a PVA NSO at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center.


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