Survivor Benefits for Spouses and Children of Deceased Veterans and Service Members

Surviving spouses and children of deceased military service members and veterans can get DIC or death pension benefits.

By , Attorney · Northeastern University School of Law

There are certain cash benefits that are available to survivors of deceased active duty members and deceased veterans. Some of these programs are for low-income families only, and others are based on the veteran's service-connected disabilities (if any). These cash benefits for survivors include dependents indemnity compensation (DIC), accrued disability compensation benefits, and death pension. (Also see Nolo's article on VA spousal benefits (not survivors).)

Dependents Indemnity Compensation Benefits

Dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) benefits are for survivors of service members who were killed on active duty and for survivors of veterans who died from service-connected disabilities or had a 100% disability rating for a period of time before death.

If your veteran spouse passed away while his or her claim for disability compensation benefits was pending, and the claim is approved, you may be entitled to the accrued disability benefits (back payments) that are due to your deceased veteran (more on this below). But you won't receive ongoing disability compensation payments; instead you may be eligible for dependents indemnity compensation (DIC) benefits.

Veteran Eligibility Requirements

Only family members of deceased veterans who meet the following requirements are eligible for DIC. The veteran must have died:

  • while on active duty (including for training) or inactive duty for training
  • from a service-connected disability, or
  • while receiving (or being eligible for) disability compensation for a totally disabling condition, for one of the following amounts of time:
    • for at least 10 years prior to death, or
    • since discharge and for at least five years prior to death, or
    • for at least one year prior to death, if the vet was a former POW.

Recipient Eligibility Requirements

Surviving spouses and children may be eligible for DIC if they meet the following requirements.

When a Surviving Spouse Is Eligible for DIC

A surviving spouse must meet one of the following requirements to be eligible for DIC. The person must have:

  • married the veteran at least one year before the veteran's death
  • married a veteran who died from a service-connected disability, if the marriage was within 15 years of discharge from the period of service that caused the disability
  • married a veteran and had a child with the veteran, or
  • married a service member who died while on active duty(including for training) or inactive duty for training.

Also, the surviving spouse must have lived with the veteran without any separations until the veteran died, unless the surviving spouse was not responsible for the separation.

When a Remarried Surviving Spouse Is Eligible for DIC

In some cases, remarriage makes a surviving spouse ineligible for DIC. This depends on the date of the remarriage and the age of the surviving spouse on the date of remarriage.

Surviving spouses who remarry after age 57 remain eligible for DIC despite the remarriage. A spouse who remarries before age 57 will not be considered eligible for DIC, unless the marriage happened before December 16, 2003.

When a Surviving Child Is Eligible for DIC

A surviving child is eligible for DIC if the child isn't included in the survivor spouse's DIC, is unmarried, and is under age 18 (or under age 23 and attending school).

How to Apply for DIC

The first step will be to notify the VA of the veteran's death by completing a Report of Casualty form. Then complete the VA Form 21-534 application form and submit it to your nearest VA regional office. You can also request the DIC application form by phone at 800-827-1000.

Retroactive Disability Compensation Benefits (Accrued Benefits)

Accrued benefits are the cash benefits due to the veteran between the date they applied for service-connected disability compensation and the date they were finally awarded disability compensation. Sometimes a veteran may die before receiving this lump sum of back payments, or retroactive payment of disability compensation.

Surviving spouses or children who meet the DIC requirements described above can also apply to receive any retroactive sum payment for service-connected disability compensation that was due the deceased veteran. At times, this can be a significant sum of money.

A request for payment of accrued benefits is included on the same VA application form (21-354) that is used to request DIC, and has the same application process as described above.

Death Pension (or Survivors Pension)

The surviving spouse and children of a veteran who served during wartime who are ineligible for DIC may be eligible for the death pension benefit if they are unmarried and they fall within the low-income guidelines of the program. The amount of the death pension depends on your income; learn how the VA determines the amount of the death pension benefit.

Eligibility for Death Pension

A surviving spouse is eligible at any time until remarriage, whereas a surviving child is only eligible if he or she is:

  • less than 18 years old,
  • under the age of 23 and attending a school approved by the VA, or
  • had a injury or illness prior to age 18 that caused a permanent disability such that the child cannot support himself or herself.

Requirement of Wartime Service

What counts as wartime service for the purpose of the death pension requirements? If the veteran served on or prior to September 7, 1980, the full period of service must have been at least 90 days without at least one day during wartime for survivors to be eligible for the pension.

Veterans who went on active duty after September 7, 1980 must have served a full 24 months or the full period of service, and also have served at least one day during wartime.

Many times veterans and their families believe the veteran's service qualifies as wartime, but the VA has strictly defined only certain periods as wartime.

Low-Income Requirement

The family annual income has to be less than the income and assets limits of the death pension program to qualify a spouse or child for the benefit.

How to Apply for the Death Pension

The first step is to notify the VA of the veteran's death by completing a Report of Casualty form. Next, complete the application form for death pension and submit it to your nearest VA regional office. The application form is the same one as for DIC and accrued benefits. Both forms can be found in this article, under the section"How to Apply for DIC. "You can also request the application form by phone at 800-827-1000.

If Your Application for Survivor Benefits is Denied

If you apply for DIC, accrued benefits, or a death pension and receive a denial letter from the VA, you have the right to appeal this decision. Contact a veterans disability lawyer for assistance.

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