Securing survivor and dependent educational benefits can change the trajectory of a family’s recovery
While helplessness and despair are among the immediate responses to learning a spouse has unexpectedly died, for a widow or widower, the emotional impacts and long-term financial challenges can seem to extend their grieving period indefinitely.
That’s why, in the case of veterans who die due to service-connected disabilities, securing VA survivor and dependent educational benefits is so critical for the future of their surviving spouse and their children.
In 2011, Lorrene Eads was a 26-year-old wife and mother who had already seen her husband, Ronson, struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts as a result of his time in Afghanistan. Just a week before discovering she was pregnant with their second child—a boy—Ronson tragically took his own life. Eads, taking the advice of a family friend, reached out to DAV through benefits advocate Don Inns.
“Don was pretty straightforward about the claims process going into it,” Eads said. “He said it might be a battle but that I deserve this. I didn’t have any expectations, as it’s not commonly known that spouses can qualify for these benefits.”
With DAV’s help, the VA granted service connection for the cause of her husband’s death and entitlement to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA).
“I was at work one day and just happen to call and check my bank account, and I just started crying,” Eads said. “I was always saving pennies where I could. Paying all the bills that come out of the woodwork when someone dies. Now, I was able to say we got this—my kids have a future.”
Generally, for a spouse or child to be eligible for DEA benefits, the service member must be adjudicated as 100% permanently and totally disabled due to a service-connected disability or have died while on active duty or as a result of a service-connected disability. These benefits can make all the difference according to Marine Corps veteran Lawrence Anthony. Anthony has first-hand experience with the impact of educational benefits, as he used his to obtain his doctorate in education.
“The benefits that veterans and their families receive from education are some of the most powerful weapons in their arsenal of tools to help bring future financial security and peace of mind,” said Anthony. “Education is the vehicle that helps veterans and their families to drive over life’s land mines, setbacks and shattered dreams.”
David Hough saw a lot in his 37-year Marine Corps career. He enlisted in 1974 and retired as colonel in 2011, but he and his wife, Jen, still didn’t have a good grasp of the benefits process.
“The retirement process is challenging enough, and it is imperative that you do the correct thing to ensure you and your family’s financial security,” said Hough. “The process as stated was not clear.”
Fortunately for Hough, a good friend he served with recommended he contact DAV. After a methodical review of Hough’s file, a DAV benefits expert filed for an increase, and Hough’s rating increased from 70% to 100%, permanent and total, making his son eligible for DEA benefits.
“We received educational benefits for our son,” said Jen Hough. “It is so helpful to have someone knowledgeable to ask questions to. Someone who knows how to get the information, the correct form to fill out, and how to cut through all the red tape.”
Educational benefits do vary from state to state, so Inns suggests that survivors and dependents make sure they are aware of any and all possible benefits they have earned.
“They can always email directly with a local DAV benefits advocate by going to benefitsquestions.org,” Inns said.
“The veteran may not know how many of their kids’ birthdays they missed,” Jen Hough said. “They may not know how many Christmases they have missed or Halloweens because they were busy doing an important job, but I bet their kids remember. Educational benefits for their kids are a small way to make up for the time lost.”
Inns sees them as an investment in the country’s future.
“While obtaining VA disability compensation for veterans can be life-changing,” he said, “securing educational benefits for their children changes the course of our country.”