Is a Veteran’s Surviving Spouse Eligible for Benefits?

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 What are Veterans Benefits?

For those individuals who have served in the United States Military, there are a number of benefits that may be available to them. In addition, there are also benefits for the families of veterans of the armed services, including:

  • Health benefits;
  • Disability benefits;
  • Department of Veterans’ Affairs home loans;
  • Education assistance and training programs;
  • Life insurance;
  • Burial services;
  • Assistance for Homeless Veterans: includes resources helping homeless veterans find shelter and get any care they may be eligible for; and
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) treatment. Counseling is available at VA centers for both service members and their families.

Many of the benefits listed above have eligibility requirements to receive them. The requirements for health and disability benefits are examined further in the following section.

What Health Benefits are Available for Veterans?

Although healthcare is provided for free to individuals who are currently serving in the military and is available at little cost to immediate family members of those who are currently serving, these healthcare benefits are only potentially available to a veteran. This is true until they retire.

After a veteran retires, their healthcare benefits will remain in effect. These health benefits may be available to individuals who have served on active duty.

These benefits may also be available, in certain cases, to individuals who served in the Reserves or National Guard and who were called up for active duty. For an individual to be even potentially eligible, they must have served at least 24 months and must have received a discharge that was not dishonorable.

The issue surrounding eligibility has occurred due to funding issues with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA). Potentially, however, all veterans should be eligible for healthcare through the VA.

The lack of funding, unfortunately, has forced the VA to categorize veterans into priority groups. Veterans who have greater degrees of disability will receive higher priority and are more likely to receive healthcare services through the VA.

If a veteran is granted services, the health benefits available may include:

  • Preventative care;
  • Diagnostic and treatment services; and
  • Hospitalization.

It is important to note that combat veterans are eligible for VA services 5 years after their separation if they were released from military service after January 28, 2003. A transition program called the Transitional Assistance Management Program (TAMP), can provide up to 180 days of healthcare for an eligible veteran and their family members while that veteran is transitioning from military service into civilian life.

A veteran may also be eligible for up to 18 months of military healthcare, called Tricare, if they pay 100% of the cost themselves. For individuals who are eligible for VA services, there are also long-term options that may be available.

Some of these options include:

  • Geriatric evaluation;
  • Adult day health care;
  • Respite care;
  • Home care; and
  • Hospice, or palliative, care.

Is a Veteran’s Surviving Spouse Eligible for Benefits?

If an individual is the surviving spouse of a veteran, they may potentially be eligible for veterans’ benefits. Eligibility will depend on each individual’s situation, but they are likely eligible.

In addition certain individuals who are spouses of military personnel with wartime service may be eligible to receive a survivor’s pension. A large number of these benefits are tax-free.

What is Dependency and Indemnity Compensation?

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) are tax-free payments that are made to the survivors of military personnel who have died in the line of duty. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is the agency that administers DIC payments.

This pension is a monthly benefit that is paid to the survivors of certain deceased veterans. There are specific requirements that must be met to receive these payments.

For a veteran to be deemed eligible, that veteran must have died:

  • On active duty;
  • While training;
  • Due to service-connected disabilities; or
  • From a non-service-related cause and not as a result of willful misconduct;
    • In addition, the veteran must have been receiving, or was eligible to receive disability compensation from the VA for service-connected disabilities;
    • The veteran also must have been:
      • Completely disabled for 10 years prior to death;
      • Discharged 5 years prior to death; or
      • 1 year following being a prisoner of war after September 30, 1999.

For a veteran’s spouse to be eligible, they must have:

  • Been married to the veteran for at least one year before the death, or
  • Had a child with the veteran,
    • Or, if the couple has been married within 15 years of the discharge, and the veteran left the military due to a service-connected disability, the spouse must have:
      • cohabited with the veteran for the duration of the marriage unless the couple went through period of separation that was not the fault of the surviving spouse; and
  • Not remarried prior to reaching the age of 57.

The current amount that is available under Dependence and Indemnity Compensation pension, if the veteran died on or after January 1, 1993, is $1,195. There are certain additional increases that may be available.

In addition, if a surviving spouse does get remarried, but that subsequent marriage ends in death, divorce, or annulment, their DIC can be restored.

How Can an Eligible Survivor Apply?

An eligible survivor may apply by completing VA Form 21-534. This form is called the “Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Death Pension and Accrued Benefits by a Surviving Spouse or Child.”

Once this form is complete, the survivor should send it to the VA regional office. If an eligible survivor wishes to restore their DIC benefits, they only need to call 1-800-827-1000 for more information.

What is the Veteran’s Death Pension?

The VA Survivor’s Pension provides monthly payments to a qualified surviving spouse and the unmarried dependent children of wartime veterans who meet certain income and net worth limits that are set by Congress.

The requirements that must be fulfilled to be eligible for this pension include:

  • Length of service: The veteran must have served a minimum amount of time and for a specific period of time;
    • If the military veteran served before September 7, 1980, the veteran must have served at least 90 days of active military service, with at least one day during wartime;
    • If the service member joined the military after September 7, 1980, they must have served at least 24 months or the full term ordered of active duty, with at least one day during wartime;
  • Not dishonorably discharge: The service member must have not been dishonorably discharged; and
  • Income: There are certain income restrictions that apply, which may vary from year to year. These limitations are set by Congress, and they discount an individual’s countable income from the set income limit;
    • For example, if the maximum income rate is $12,000, and the survivor earned $10,000, they will be eligible for $2,000 under the survivor’s pension.

Who Else May be Eligible for Survivor Benefits?

In addition to spouses, other individuals may be eligible to receive survivor benefits, including parents and children. There are similar restrictions and requirements that must be met in order for these individuals to be eligible.

Should I Seek Legal Advice?

Applying for veteran’s benefits or surviving spouse benefits may not be a simple task. Obtaining these benefits through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs may be a long, complicated, and difficult process.

It may be helpful to consult with a social security lawyer who can help you obtain your benefits. You may be able to avoid unnecessary delays and ensure you receive the compensation your spouse fought for and earned for you.

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