What are veteran survivor benefits?

As a veteran’s surviving spouse, child or parent, you may qualify for certain benefits, such as help with burial costs and compensation or pension. You may also qualify for health care, life insurance, or financial assistance to help pay for school or training.

Compensation and pension benefits for veteran survivors

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is a monthly benefit paid to the surviving spouse, children or parents of any veteran who passed away on or after Jan. 1, 1957. A survivor may be eligible for this benefit if one of the following criteria are met:

  • The veteran died while on active duty or on active or inactive duty for training.
  • The veteran died as the result of a service-connected disability or a condition caused or worsened by a service-connected disability.

DIC may also be paid to certain survivors of veterans whose service-connected disabilities did not cause their deaths. To be eligible, for Department of Veterans Affairs purposes, at the time of death the veteran must have been considered totally disabled by their service-connected disabilities, whether schedular, extra-schedular or by increased evaluation based on Individual Unemployability. Additionally, the veteran must have been continuously rated as totally disabled either:

  • For a period of 10 years immediately preceding death.
  • From their date of military discharge and for at least five years immediately preceding death.
  • For a period of at least one year immediately preceding death and was a former prisoner of war.

Note: The veteran must have been discharged or released under conditions other than dishonorable from the period of active military, naval or air service in which the disability responsible for their death was incurred or aggravated. The veteran’s death must not have been the result of their own willful misconduct.

Death Pension

Death Pension is a monthly benefit paid to a surviving spouse and to eligible children of a veteran with honorable wartime service and whose death was unrelated to service. The monthly amount is regulated by income and will generally be paid to a surviving spouse whose income is not excessive and who was married to the veteran either:

  • One year or more prior to the veteran’s death.
  • For any period of time if a child was born of the marriage or was born to them before the marriage.

Survivors of peacetime veterans are not entitled to Death Pension. However, if the veteran’s death was the result of service-connected disability, these dependents would be entitled to DIC.

Aid & Attendance

Survivors who qualify for DIC or Death Pension may also be eligible for an additional monthly amount paid for Aid & Attendance or Housebound benefits.

A survivor may be eligible for aid and attendance when they are in need of regular assistance by another person. Such needs exist when they are unable to feed themselves, dress or undress themselves, or keep themselves ordinarily clean and presentable. Eligibility may also be shown when they are unable to attend to the wants of nature; or has an incapacity, physical or mental, that requires care or assistance on a regular basis to protect from hazards or dangers incident to their daily environment. Survivors who are patients in a nursing home because of a physical or mental incapacity are considered in need of regular aid and attendance.

Housebound benefits may be warranted when the survivor is found to be permanently housebound or confined by a permanent disability, or disabilities, to their home or premises.

Survivor Benefit Plan

Survivors may be eligible to receive a monthly payment or annuity if the deceased veteran opted in and continued paying for a Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP).  SBP is a type of insurance plan the deceased veteran elects upon retirement from military service, which paid in monthly premiums that may provide coverage to beneficiaries of up to 55% of the veteran’s retirement pay. Beneficiaries may include the surviving spouse, former spouse, children or a disabled dependent. In cases where the deceased did not have a spouse or children, another person of natural insurable interest, such as a brother or sister, may be eligible.

The SBP is protected from inflation and receives an annual cost-of-living adjustment, similar to retirement pay.                

Death gratuity

A surviving spouse or child may be eligible for a death gratuity if the deceased veteran died on active duty, active or inactive duty for training, or within 120 days of release from active duty if the death was the result of a disability related to their military service. If there is no surviving spouse or child, then parents or siblings designated as next of kin by the service member may be eligible.

 

What health care benefits are veteran survivors eligible for?

Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs

A surviving spouse or child may be eligible for health insurance through the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA). Through CHAMPVA, the VA covers the cost of some health care services and supplies for eligible beneficiaries. If a survivor qualifies for TRICARE, they are not entitled to CHAMPVA. Survivors may be eligible for CHAMPVA if they do not qualify for TRICARE and the deceased veteran either:

  • Died from a VA-rated service-connected disability.
  • Was rated permanently and totally disabled from a service-connected disability at the time of their death.
  • Died in the line of duty, not due to misconduct. (In most of these cases, these family members are eligible for TRICARE, not CHAMPVA.)

Services and supplies covered when determined medically necessary by the VA, and the services were provided by a VA-authorized provider, include those listed below.

  • Ambulance service
  • Ambulatory surgery
  • Durable medical equipment (DME)
  • Family planning and maternity
  • Hospice
  • Inpatient services
  • Mental health services
  • Outpatient services
  • Pharmacy (prescription medicines)
  • Skilled nursing care
  • Transplants

 

What education and training benefits are survivors eligible for?

Fry Scholarship

The surviving spouse and children of a veteran who died in the line of active duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001, may be eligible for benefits under the Fry Scholarship. The Fry Scholarship provides Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to eligible survivors to attend school for up to 36 months at the 100% rate.

A surviving spouse may receive DIC while using the Fry Scholarship. However, any children over the age of 18 will relinquish DIC upon using the Fry Scholarship.

Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program

A veteran’s surviving spouse and children may be eligible for educational benefits from the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance (DEA) program. This benefit may be used in pursuing education and training including degree, certificate, apprenticeship and on-the-job training programs. Only a surviving spouse or children (which includes stepchildren and adopted) are eligible.

The veteran must have either died of a service-connected disability, had permanent and total service-connected disability at the time of death, or died while a disability so evaluated was in existence. The spouse of a service member missing in action is also eligible.

The period of entitlement for a surviving spouse extends for 10 years from the date of the veteran’s death. For surviving spouses of veterans who died on active duty, benefits end 20 years from the date of death.

A surviving child must generally be between 18 and 26 years of age. It is possible, however, to receive these benefits before age 18 if the child has graduated from high school or is above the age of compulsory school attendance in his or her state, if the VA finds that it would be in his or her best interest to commence training before the child reaches age 18.

Montgomery GI Bill Death Benefit

The VA will pay a special Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) death benefit to a designated survivor in the event of a service-connected death of a service member while on active duty or within one year after discharge or release. The deceased must either have been entitled to educational assistance under the MGIB program or a participant in the program who would have been so entitled but for the high school diploma or length-of-service requirement. The amount paid will be equal to the participant’s actual military pay reduction, less any education benefits paid.

 

Children born with spina bifida to Vietnam, Korean War veterans

Surviving biological children of veterans who served in Vietnam at any time during the period beginning Jan. 9, 1962, and ending May 7, 1975, or who served in or near the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) during the period beginning Sept. 1, 1967, and ending Aug. 31, 1971, born with spina bifida may be eligible for a monthly monetary allowance and vocational training, if reasonably feasible.

The law defines “child” as the natural child of a Vietnam or Korea veteran, regardless of child’s age or marital status. The child must have been conceived after the date on which the veteran first entered the Republic of Vietnam or Korea.

A monetary allowance is paid at one of three disability levels based on the neurological manifestations that define the severity of disability: impairment of the functioning of extremities, impairment of bowel or bladder function, and impairment of intellectual functioning.

Children born with certain birth defects to women Vietnam veterans

Biological children of women veterans who served in Vietnam at any time during the period beginning on Feb. 28, 1961, and ending on May 7, 1975, may be eligible for certain benefits because of birth defects associated with the mother’s service in Vietnam that resulted in the child’s permanent physical or mental disability. The covered birth defects do not include conditions due to family disorders, birth-related injuries, or fetal or neonatal infirmities with well-established causes. A monetary allowance is paid at one of four disability levels based on the child’s degree of permanent disability.

 

What other benefits are available for survivors?

VA Home Loan Guaranty

A VA loan guaranty to acquire a home may be available to an un-remarried spouse of a veteran or service member who died as a result of service-connected disabilities, a surviving spouse who remarries after age 57, or a spouse of a service member officially listed as missing in action or who is currently a prisoner of war for more than 90 days. Spouses of those listed MIA/POW are limited to one loan. Surviving spouses of certain totally disabled veterans, whose disability may not have been the cause of death, may also be eligible for VA loan guaranty.

The loan may be used to purchase, construct or improve a home; purchase a manufactured home and/or lot; or refinance existing mortgages or other liens on a dwelling owned as the surviving spouse’s home.

“No-Fee” passports

“No-fee” passports are available to immediate family members (spouse, children, parents, brothers and sisters) for the expressed purpose of visiting their loved one’s grave or memorialization site at an American military cemetery on foreign soil. For additional information, telephone 703-696-6897, visit www.abmc.gov, or write to:

American Battle Monuments Commission
Courthouse Plaza II, Suite 500
2300 Clarendon Blvd.
Arlington, VA 22201

 

Burial benefits from the National Cemetery Administration      

Eligible veterans and their spouses and dependents can be buried in one of the national cemeteries across the nation maintained by the VA. Burial benefits for veterans in these cemeteries include opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a government headstone or marker, a burial flag and a Presidential Memorial Certificate (PMC), at no cost to the family.

Burial benefits available for spouses and dependents buried in a national cemetery include burial with the veteran, perpetual care of the gravesite, and the spouse’s or dependents’ names and dates of birth and death inscribed on the veteran’s headstone, at no cost to the family. Spouses and dependents may also be eligible to be buried in a VA national cemetery.

Please note, when veterans are buried at private cemeteries, the government provides a headstone or marker, a burial flag and a PMC. The VA also may pay for some of the burial and funeral expenses. Many states have their own veteran cemeteries, which may have state residency requirements.

 

How can I apply for VA benefits?

If a veteran of any era was injured, fell ill or suffered a trauma during their time in the military, they may wish to file a claim for disability benefits through the VA in order to have that condition verified as service connected, thus making them eligible for necessary health care coverage and other earned benefits.

It can be helpful to enlist the help of a professional benefits expert to guide you through the process. Many, like those at DAV, provide their expertise and service at absolutely no cost to the service member, veteran or their family. Find a DAV benefits expert by visiting DAV’s online locator.

Current military members looking for assistance as they separate from service can visit one of DAV’s transition service offices.

Don’t see an office nearby? DAV has more than 1,300 local chapters and departments, and most are staffed by trained veteran experts who can help facilitate your claim. You can also check and see if a DAV information seminar will be conducted in your area soon.

For assistance or to ask questions about your claim status, you may also call the Veterans Benefits Administration national call center at 1-800-827-1000.

 

Additional resources

http://www.va.gov/survivors/
http://www.va.gov/opa/persona/dependent_survivor.asp
http://www.va.gov/opa/publications/benefits_book/benefits_chap13.asp
http://www.va.gov/survivors/faqs.asp
http://www.va.gov/SURVIVORS/Contact_Us.asp
http://www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/claims-special-burial.asp
http://www.benefits.va.gov/pension/spousepen.asp
http://www.benefits.va.gov/pension/current_rates_survivor_pen.asp
http://www.veteransaidbenefit.org/va_help_surviving_spouse.htm
https://www.caring.com/questions/veterans-widow-benefits