The old adage “other agencies may take care of a Veteran’s family, but the VA only takes care of the Veteran” is only partially true. In certain circumstances, family members, dependents, and survivors of Veterans may be entitled federal VA benefits. These benefits may include an increase to the Veteran’s disability compensation, dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC), death compensation (including Accrued, Substitution, and Non-negotiated Benefits), educational and training assistance (DEA), health care, VA home loans and housing-related assistance, and death pension.
If a Veteran has a service-connected disability rated at or greater than 30%, the Veteran’s disability payments will be increased if he or she has a spouse and/or dependents – including biological children, step-children, and eligible parents. These increased payments for children continue until the 18th birthday of children who are not enrolled in an educational institution. If the child enrolls in and attends courses at an educational institution, this compensation may be continued until age 26, as long as the attendance is recorded and sent to the VA. It is the responsibility of the Veteran to record and send to the VA proof of attendance on a VA Form 21-674, and any other pertinent forms, every year. The amount of time it takes the VA to process dependent pay can vary greatly.
DIC AND DEATH COMPENSATION
Because a servicemember’s death, or the death of a Veteran as a result of a service-connected disability, can have a profound economic effect upon his or her family, the VA offers Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) monthly benefits to surviving spouses, dependent children, and qualifying parent. The VA also pays these benefits to the survivors of a Veteran whose death is not service-connected, but who was rated by VA as being totally disabled due to a service-connected disability for a specified period immediately preceding death.
Accrued benefits are benefits that would be attributable to the Veteran had the Veteran not deceased prior to payment. An example of an accrued benefit is when claim or appeal for a benefit, such as service-connected disability compensation, was pending at the time of the Veteran’s death and the VA eventually awards the benefit. Another example is if there is one or more benefit checks which have not been deposited or negotiated the time of the Veteran’s death. Substitution is a process of acquiring accrued benefits. If a Veteran or other claimant dies while his or her claim or appeal is pending, a person eligible to receive accrued benefits may substitute himself or herself for the Veteran. It is important to note that the VA must receive an accrued benefits claim within one year after the Veteran’s death, and/or within one year from the date of notification to the Veteran. VA must receive a substitution of claimant claim within one year of the original claimant’s death. If the substitute dies, the next successive substitute has one year following the substitute’s death to file a claim.
EDUCATIONAL AND TRAINING ASSISTANCE (DEA)
Eligible dependents of Veterans who are permanently and totally disabled due to a service-related condition, dependents of Veterans who died while on active duty, and dependents of Veterans who died as a result of a service-related disability have special education and training opportunities through the VA’s Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program. In order to determine eligibility, you must be the son, daughter, or spouse of: (1) A Veteran who died or is permanently and totally disabled as the result of a service-connected disability. The disability must arise out of active service in the armed forces; (2) A Veteran who died from any cause while such permanent and total service-connected disability was in existence; (3) A Service member missing in action or captured in line of duty by a hostile force; (4) A Service member forcibly detained or interned in line of duty by a foreign government or power; or (5) A Service member who is hospitalized or receiving outpatient treatment for a service-connected permanent and total disability and is likely to be discharged for that disability.
Veterans’ family members may be eligible for certain health benefits, such as Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA), Spina Bifida (SB), Children of Women Vietnam Veterans (CWVV), Foreign Medical Program (FMP) and Caregiver.
CHAMPVA can provide coverage to the spouse, widow(er), and dependent children of a qualifying Veteran who is rated ‘permanently and totally disabled’ due to a service-connected disability, was rated permanently and totally disabled due to a service-connected condition at the time of death, died of a service-connected disability, or died on active duty. In order to qualify for CHAMPVA, the dependents cannot otherwise be eligible for Department of Defense TRICARE benefits.
Children with certain birth defects who were conceived between February 28, 1961, and May 7, 1975, and born of a woman Vietnam Veteran may be eligible for certain benefits. Children with Spina Bifida and born of a Vietnam Veteran and certain Korean Veterans, regardless of the Veteran’s gender, may also be eligible for certain benefits.
The primary caregivers of OEF/OIF Veterans may be eligible to receive a stipend and access to healthcare coverage if they are not already entitled to care or services under a health plan contract, including Medicare, Medicaid or worker’s compensation. Mental health counseling, including marriage and family counseling, will also be provided. Caregivers may also be eligible for travel, lodging and per diem when they accompany the Veteran for care or attend training.
VA HOME LOANS AND HOUSING-RELATED ASSISTANCE
Eligible surviving spouses of Veterans and Service members may be entitled to the VA home loan, which can be used for an initial purchase, a cash-out refinance, or an interest rate reduction refinance loan. The guarantee the VA provides to housing lenders allows them to provide you with more favorable terms, such as no down payment as long as the sales price doesn’t exceed the appraised value, no private mortgage insurance (PMI) premium requirement, a limit on the amount you can be charged for closing costs, a restriction on the lender from charging you a penalty fee if you pay the loan off early, and the VA may be able to provide you some assistance if you run into difficulty making payments. This benefit is reusable once you pay off the preceding loan and VA-backed loans are assumable, as long as the person assuming the loan qualifies for the benefit.
DEATH PENSION AND MEMORIAL BENEFITS
The Survivors Pension benefit is a tax-free monetary benefit payable to a low-income, un-remarried surviving spouse and/or unmarried qualifying child(ren) of a deceased Veteran with qualifying wartime service. This Pension is needs-based, meaning that it is based on your yearly family income.
Memorial benefits can include burial in a VA national cemetery, a headstone or marker with an inscription, a burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and some survivors may also be entitled to VA burial allowances as partial reimbursement for the costs of funerals and burials for eligible Veterans.