How to File for Veterans Survivor Benefits

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Loved ones know how much veterans have done for their country. So the benefits that family members can receive after veterans die aren’t just given, they were earned. Here’s an overview of what is available and how to apply.

Survivors pension benefit

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides a survivors pension benefit, or death pension, to low-income spouses of deceased veterans who served during wartime. This benefit is only available to spouses who have not remarried, but there are no age restrictions. It can also be available for children of such a veteran.

The veteran who died must have met the following service requirements:

  • For service on or before September 7, 1980, the veteran must have served at least 90 days of active military service, with at least one day during a war time period.
  • If the veteran entered active duty after September 7, 1980, generally he or she must have served at least 24 months or the full period for which called or ordered to active duty with at least one day during a war time period.
  • Must not have been dishonorably discharged.

For a child of a deceased wartime veteran to be eligible, he or she must be under 18 or under age 23 if attending school, or permanently unable to care for himself or herself because of a disability that occurred before age 18.

This pension, which is tax-free, is based on your annual family income. To apply, fill out the Application for DIC, Death Pension and/or Accrued Benefits and mail it to your local Pension Management Center. You can also bring it in to your regional benefit office.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) program

This program provides monthly benefits to spouses and dependent children in the event of a service member’s death during military service or as a result of a service-related disability. This benefit is also tax-free.

To be eligible, the VA says the spouse must have been:

  • Married to a service member who died on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training, or
  • Married to the veteran before 1957, or
  • Married to the veteran within 15 years of discharge from the period of military service in which the disease or injury that caused the death began or was aggravated, or
  • Married to the veteran for at least a year, or
  • Had a child with the veteran, and
  • Lived with the veteran continuously until the veteran’s death or, if separated, was not at fault for the separation, and
  • Is not currently remarried. However, a spouse who remarried on or after Dec. 16, 2003, at the age of at least 57, may continue to receive benefits from the program.

For a child to be eligible, he or she must be:

  • Not included on the surviving spouse’s DIC
  • Unmarried
  • Under age 18, or under age 23 but attending school

To apply, fill out the Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Death Pension and/or Accrued Benefits form and mail it to your local Pension Management Center. You can also bring it in to your regional benefit office. If the death occurred while the veteran was still serving, a military casualty assistance officer will help you apply.

Note: There is also program called Parents’ Dependency and Indemnity Compensation to help parents who were dependent on the veteran’s income.

Burial benefits

Veterans and spouses may both be eligible for a free burial and headstone in a VA cemetery. The VA has a long list of qualifications that you can see here. To schedule a burial, gather the eligibility documentation (usually a copy of an official military discharge document) and email it to nca.scheduling@va.gov or fax it to (866) 900-6417. Next, call the National Cemetery Scheduling Office at (800) 535-1117 to tell them what cemetery you would like and provide other relevant information. A veteran who is buried in a private cemetery may also be entitled to a headstone and burial allowance. Forms to request the headstone can be found here. However, this benefit does not apply to the veteran’s family members.

Other benefits

The VA also offers programs to help surviving spouses refinance, buy or improve a home. You can apply online, through your lender, or by completing a form and mailing it. Scholarships and other educational assistance are also available to survivors and dependents.

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