A surviving spouse of a disabled military veteran may be eligible for different types of benefits, including Dependents Indemnity Compensation (DIC). Factors that determine eligibility and benefit amounts include whether the deceased spouse became disabled or died while in active service, when and where the veteran served while in the military, and whether the veteran had filed a claim and received a compensation rating which determines benefit amounts. Benefits are only awarded to veterans -- or their surviving family members -- who received an honorable discharge from the military.
Dependents Indemnity Compensation (DIC)
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) dispenses monthly DIC payments to surviving spouses and unmarried children if the deceased veteran acquired an injury or illness while in training or in active duty. In some cases, survivors may receive DIC benefits even if the veteran’s cause of death was not due to the injury received in the military, according to the VA.
To qualify for the DIC benefit, the survivor’s spouse must have received, or been approved to receive, total disability payments for at least 5 years between the discharge date and the date of death, or have been rated totally disabled for at least 10 years immediately preceding death. Survivors of a former prisoner of war -- POW -- who died after Sept. 30, 1999 are eligible for DIC if their deceased spouse was rated totally disabled for at least one year prior to his death.
Survivors of Veterans with Specific Illnesses
Survivors of Vietnam-era veterans who were exposed to the Agent Orange herbicide in Vietnam or Thailand and later developed one of 14 serious diseases believed caused by Agent Orange are also eligible for DIC compensation.
The VA has extended health and disability benefits to any military veteran who served at least 90 consecutive days and was later diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The benefit is awarded to the surviving spouse and unmarried children after the veteran’s death.
The basic monthly DIC rate is $1,154 for an eligible surviving spouse of an enlisted veteran, with an additional $286 per month for a dependent child. There may be additional benefits if the survivors show financial need, according to the VA. Benefit rates are subject to budgetary cuts. The VA has not given cost-of-living increases in the DIC benefit rates since 2008.
Filing a Claim
Applicants will need to complete VA Form 21-534 “Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Death Pension and Accrued Benefits by a Surviving Spouse or Child.” Claimants need to provide the veteran’s DD214, or discharge papers, and death certificate along with information on household income.
The VA encourages surviving spouses to seek help from their local VA regional office or Veteran Service Organization when filing a claim for benefits. The ALS Association recommends survivors of veterans with ALS contact a Paralyzed Veterans of America National Service Officer for help completing claim paperwork.
The rules in effect today may not be the same five years from now. Vietnam-era veterans fought for health and disability benefits in courts and in Congress for decades before winning the right to claim benefits for diseases associated with Agent Orange exposure. In recent years, additional diseases have been added to the list of diseases potentially caused by Agent Orange. The ALS benefit was initially approved only for Persian Gulf War veterans who served from 1990 to 1991. As more data on the prevalence of ALS in the military became available, the benefit was extended to all veterans in 2008.