Proposed legislation would expand survivors benefits

At the beginning of the 117th Congress, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester and Sen. John Boozman introduced the Caring for Survivors Act of 2021 (S. 976) to adjust benefits awarded to survivors and family members of veterans who died as a result of their military service. The bipartisan legislation would ease the eligibility criteria for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) to allow additional survivors to receive the benefit and increase the monthly benefit amount to match benefits provided by other federal survivor programs. Specifically, the measure would:

  • Expand eligibility for DIC by replacing the “10-year” rule with a graduated scale of benefits that begins at five years for initial eligibility at 50% and gradually reaches the full benefit 10 years after determination of disability. For example, if a veteran is rated totally disabled for five years and dies of a non-service-connected cause, a survivor would be entitled to 50% of the DIC benefit.
  • Increase the amount of DIC to 55% of the rate of monthly compensation received by a totally disabled veteran.

“Families who lost their loved ones in the line of duty or from a service-related injury shouldn’t have to worry about their economic security,” said Tester in a joint press release with Boozman. “Our bipartisan bill will fix outdated policies, bringing surviving spouses’ and family members’ earned benefits in line with other federal programs. And it’ll reduce bureaucratic red tape to ensure no survivor is unfairly kept from the benefits they need in the future.”

“DAV has long advocated for enhancing survivors benefits, including the provisions in this bill,” said National Legislative Director Joy Ilem. “While there was some progress during the 116th Congress—including reduction of the remarriage age for surviving spouses—there is still much work to do to ensure survivor benefits continue to provide for the financial stability of veterans’ loved ones.”

The rate of compensation paid to survivors of service members who die in the line of duty or veterans who die from service-related injuries or diseases was established in 1993. It has only been minimally adjusted since that time.

Additionally, benefits are currently restricted for survivors if the veteran was disabled for less than 10 years before death. The Caring for Survivors Act of 2021 would reduce the 10-year time frame a veteran needs to be rated totally disabled to five years, broadening eligibility to more survivors and alleviating additional burdens on family members during their time of loss.

“Ensuring veterans’ survivors are adequately cared for is a deeply personal issue for many of our members,” said Ilem. “We believe the Caring for Survivors Act would ease burdens placed on both veterans and the family members they leave behind.”


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