Surviving Spouse Benefits Eligibility

Surviving Spouse benefits available from the Department of Veterans Affairs and applicable eligiblity rules.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)

What it is: Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is a monetary benefit paid to eligible survivors of veterans whose death resulted from a service-related injury or disease, or service members who died in the line of duty. DIC is a tax-free benefit.

What you should know: The cause of the veterans’ death should meet one of the following criteria:

  • The cause of death was an injury or disease deemed to be related to military service, or
  • The cause of death was a non service-related injury or disease, but the veteran was receiving or was entitled to receive compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for another total disabling, service-connected disability:

1. for at least 10 years immediately before death, or
2. since release from active duty and for at least five years immediately preceding death, or
3. for at least one year before death if the Veteran was a former prisoner of war who died after September 30, 1999.

What that means: The service-connected disability is considered the principal or primary cause of death when that disability, (by itself or with some other medical condition), was the immediate or underlying cause of death.

The service connected disability was a contributory cause of death when shown to have a causal relationship to death:

  • a. Progressive or debilitating in nature, and
  • b. Affecting a vital organ, or
  • c. Affecting vital body functions.

Where you can find this information: The principal and contributory causes of death are usually listed on the death certificate.

What else? The Surviving Spouse must meet at least one of the following eligibility criteria:

  • was validly married to the veteran before January 1, 1957, or
  • was married the veteran within 15 years of discharge from the period of military service in which the disease or injury that caused the Veteran’s death began or was aggravated, or
  • was married to the veteran for at least one year, or
  • had a child with the veteran and (1) cohabited with the veteran continuously until the veteran’s death, or if separated, was not at fault for the separation, and (2) is not currently remarried (a surviving spouse who is age 57 or older and remarries on or after December 16, 2003 is entitled to continue to receive DIC).

Exception: A survivor can file a claim for DIC even if the principal or contributory cause of death was not a condition that the VA had rated a condition as service-connected (i.e., the veteran never filed a claim; or the claim was denied).

A non-service-connected disability can be aggravated to the degree that it:

  • contributed substantially or materially to the production of death,
  • combined to cause death, or
  • aided in the death of the veteran.

This establishes a link between a service-connected disability and the condition that caused the veteran’s death.  Here is an example: A veteran’s service-connected post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused the veteran to use tobacco. The resulting tobacco addiction in turn caused a secondary disability,  (e.g., lung cancer or emphysema), which caused the veteran’s death.  

Death caused by a covered herbicide disease

Based upon a court decision and subsequent federal regulation, DIC may be payable based on the veteran’s death caused by a covered herbicide disease.

The veteran must have:

  • Served in the Republic of Vietnam
  • During the time period of January 9, 1962 to May 7, 1975
  • Died as a result of a ‘covered’ herbicide disease (presumptive diseases as of 10/1/2002 only).

Covered herbicide disease means a disease for which the Secretary of Veterans Affairs has established a presumption of service connection before October 1, 2002 pursuant to the Agent Orange Act of 1991, Public Law 102-4, other than chloracne. Those diseases are:

a. Type 2 Diabetes (Also known as type II diabetes mellitus or adult-onset diabetes)
b.  Hodgkin’s disease
c.  Multiple myeloma
d.  Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
e.  Acute and Subacute peripheral neuropathy
f.  Porphyria cutanea tarda
g.  Prostate cancer
h.  Respiratory cancers (cancer of the lung, bronchus, larynx, or trachea)
i.  Soft-tissue sarcoma – as defined in § 3.309(e): Adult fibrosarcoma, Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, Malignant fibrous histiocytoma, Liposarcoma, Leiomyosarcoma, Epithelioid leiomyosarcoma (malignant leiomyoblastoma), Rhabdomyosarcoma, Ectomesenchymoma, Angiosarcoma (hemangiosarcoma and lymphangiosarcoma), Proliferating (systemic) angioendotheliomatosis, Malignant glomus tumor, Malignant hemangiopericytoma, Synovial sarcoma (malignant synovioma), Malignant giant cell tumor of tendon sheath, Malignant schwannoma, including malignant schwannoma with rhabdomyoblastic differentiation (malignant Triton tumor), glandular and epithelioid malignant schwannomas, Malignant mesenchymoma, Malignant granular cell tumor, Alveolar soft part sarcoma, Epithelioid sarcoma, Clear cell sarcoma of tendons and aponeuroses, Extraskeletal Ewing’s sarcoma, Congenital and infantile fibrosarcoma, Malignant ganglioneuroma.

Note: The surviving spouse must have been legally married to the veteran at the time of death.

Accrued Benefits

What they are: Accrued benefits are benefits a Veteran was entitled to but not yet been paid on the date of death.  The benefits may not have been paid prior to the veteran’s death because the VA  had not made a decision on a pending claim or had not yet promulgated a decision (i.e., due but not paid).

Reimbursement for expenses of services and supplies provided in the last illness and burial expenses may be requested.

What you should know: Entitlement to accrued benefits is payable according to the order of precedence established by law. The surviving spouse is the first payee in that order.

Important time limit: A claim for accrued benefits must be filed within one year from the date of death.

Survivor’s Pension

What it is: Pension is a needs-based benefit paid to a surviving spouse because of a wartime veteran’s non-service-connected death.

What you should know: The veteran’s military service must meet one of the following requirements:

  • Served 90 days or more during a period of war
  • Served during a period of war AND was discharged for a service-connected disability
  • Served for a period of 90 consecutive days or more which began or ended during a period of war
  • Served for an aggregate of 90 days or more in two or more separate periods of service during more than one period of war
  • At the time of death, the veteran was receiving compensation or retired pay for a service-connected disability
  • At the time of death, the veteran was entitled to receive compensation or retired pay for a service-connected disability

Periods of War for VA benefit purposes:

  • World War II (December 7, 1941 through December 31, 1946)
  • Korean War (June 27, 1950 through January 31, 1955)
  • Vietnam War (August 5, 1964 — or February 28, 1961 in-country — through May 7, 1975)
  • Gulf War (August 2, 1990 through a date yet to be set) 

Generally, if the veteran first entered active duty military service after September 7, 1980, an additional minimum active duty requirement of 24 months of service must be met in addition to the wartime service.

Surviving spouse eligibility criteria: The surviving spouse must meet net worth requirements and have an annual income not in excess of the applicable maximum annual pension rate.

Death Compensation

What it is: Eligible surviving spouses may receive a monthly compensation. However, the eligibility rules for this benefit essentially restrict it to surviving spouses of World War II and Korean War era Veterans.

What you should know: The Veteran must have died under the following circumstances:

  • While active duty
  • In the line of duty
  • As a result of an injury or disease incurred in, or aggravated by military service
  • Before January 1, 1957
  • During a period of war (World War II, Dec 7, 1941 through Dec 31, 1946; or Korean War, June 27, 1950 through Jan 31, 1955)

There in one exception to the above circumstances granted by law:

  • If the Veteran died on or after May 1, 1957 and prior to Jan 1, 1972, and
  • Had government insurance with the premiums waived

Other Benefits

There are other supplemental benefits available to eligible survivors. All have eligibility criteria for the veteran and the surviving spouse.  In some cases, eligibility for DIC must be established before any supplemental benefits are considered.  In addition, education benefits are generally limited to an election of one or the other (Chapter 33 or Chapter 35).

  • Aid and Attendance benefit for those who require the aid of another person to perform the personal functions required in everyday living.
  • Housebound benefit for those who are essentially restricted to their place of residence because of the severity of his/her health conditions.
  • Restored Entitlement Program for Survivors is a special allowance that replaces certain social security benefits that were reduced or lost in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981.
  • Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program(Chapter 35) is an educational benefit available if the veteran was rated by the VA with a total and permanent, 100% disability.
  • Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) is an educational benefit that can be transferred to a spouse by an active duty service member.  Recent law changes allow this benefit for a spouse of a service member who died in the line of duty; while on active duty on or after September 11, 2001.
  • Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship – an education scholarship newly available to surviving spouses of an active duty service member who died in the line of duty while on active duty, on or after September 11, 1002.
  • VA Home Loan – a determination of loan guaranty eligibility is processed by the VA for unmarried surviving spouses.
  • Life Insurance- beneficiaries also have access to a financial counseling service and online will preparation services free of charge.
  • Health – Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA).  This benefit is not available to those otherwise eligible surviving spouse if he/she is also eligible for TRICARE.
  • Burial – eligibility is based upon the eligibility of the veteran. This benefit may include burial with the Veteran in a national cemetery.