Veterans Survivor Benefits Guide

by Anna Assad

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers different benefits to the surviving spouse and dependent children of a deceased veteran. Available benefits include medical coverage, educational assistance, home loan programs, burial benefits and financial compensation. Qualifications for the benefits vary by program, but they are based on the service member's length of service and type of service. Some benefit programs also consider how the veteran died and whether the death occurred in the line of duty.

Burial Benefits

A veteran's surviving dependent children and surviving spouse are entitled to burial and memorial benefits. A child is considered a dependent if unmarried and under 21; a full-time student at an educational institution approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs remains eligible until the age of 23. An unmarried adult child may be considered a dependent if mentally or physically disabled before reaching the maximum dependent child age. A surviving spouse of a veteran who died on or after Jan. 1, 2000, keeps her eligibility even if she remarries. The veteran must have qualified for memorial and burial benefits based on her service record for her surviving dependent children and spouse to qualify. A person who entered active duty as an enlisted person after Sept. 6, 1980, or as an officer after Oct. 16, 1981, must have had at least 24 consecutive months of active duty service. A veteran who served in the Reserves or National Guard must have completed a full period of active duty, but this does not include active duty for training purposes only. If a Reservist or National Guard member was entitled to retirement pay at death, or would have been if the member reached retirement age, the surviving spouse and dependent children are eligible for benefits. The surviving spouse or dependent child is entitled to burial in a national cemetery at no charge. The benefit for survivors includes the grave site, a liner, the grave opening and closing, a headstone or grave marker and cemetery care. The benefit does not cover other costs associated with burial, such as the service and casket. Arrangements to use the burial benefits for survivors may be made through the National Cemetery Scheduling Office, but the family may ask the funeral director to contact the office. The office will need documentation of the veteran's discharge, showing service periods and discharge type, and may need proof of the deceased's relation to the veteran.

TRICARE

Survivors of a veteran may be eligible for continuing or new coverage under TRICARE, the Department of Defense's medical insurance program for civilians. The eligibility and coverage level is provided by the deceased veteran member's service; the veteran is the sponsor for the surviving spouse and dependent children. The survivors of an armed forces member who died while on active duty or a National Guard member or reservist who was active for over 30 consecutive days receive benefits at the veteran's rate as if he were living for three years after his death. After three years, the cost is set at the retirement rate. A surviving spouse loses her eligibility if she remarries, and she doesn't regain eligibility if she later divorces or her spouse dies. If the veteran was retired when he died, the surviving spouse and dependent children are entitled to coverage at the retirement cost. Survivors in other circumstances, such as the family of a nonactive Reservist, may be able to purchase TRICARE coverage. Surviving family members should contact a TRICARE service center to determine eligibility.

Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs

A surviving spouse or dependent child not eligible for TRICARE may be eligible for the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs. CHAMPVA provides reimbursement to the survivor for many medical services, including inpatient care and prescriptions. The veteran must either have died from a service-connected disability, or must have been totally and permanently disabled at the time of death. The family of a service member who died in the line or duty or while on active duty and not because of his own misconduct should be eligible for TRICARE, according to Veterans Affairs, but is eligible for CHAMPVA if found ineligible for TRICARE. A surviving spouse under 55 may only receive CHAMPVA while unmarried, but if she remarries, she may establish eligibility if she later divorces, has the marriage annulled or her spouse dies. A surviving spouse 55 or older keeps her eligibility upon remarriage. The family of a deceased veteran may apply for CHAMPVA by contacting the Health Administration Center of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Death Gratuity and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation

If a service member dies due to a service-connected illness or injury, the surviving family is entitled to a death benefit of $100,000. The Dependency and Indemnity Compensation is a monthly benefit for a surviving spouse and dependent children of a veteran who died from a service-related condition or a condition aggravated by service or who died from a condition not related to service but was totally disabled because of a service-related condition. The veteran must have been rated totally disabled for at least 10 years before her death or for at least five years after being rated totally disabled after discharge. A former prisoner of war who died after Sept. 30, 1999, only needs to be rated permanently disabled for one year before her death. The monthly benefit depends on when the veteran died and whether the survivor qualifies for additional allowances. A surviving spouse is entitled to $1,154 each month, with $286 added for each of the veteran's dependent children if the veteran died after Jan. 1, 1993. Additional benefits include aid and attendance, for a survivor who requires daily assistance from another person, and a housebound benefit for a survivor who can't leave the home. An additional benefit of $233 is paid if the veteran was rated totally disabled for eight years prior to death, and an extra $250 is added for each child under 18 for DIC entitlement starting on Jan. 1, 2005, or later. If the veteran died before Jan. 1, 1993, benefit amounts are determined by military pay grade and vary. Survivors must contact the Veterans Affairs to apply for benefits.

Home Loan Guaranty

A veteran's surviving spouse may qualify for the home loan guaranty provided by Veterans Affairs. The guaranty can help the surviving spouse finance a home or condominium purchase or refinance a current mortgage. The spouse may also use the guaranty to buy a cooperative housing unit, a manufactured home and the home's lot or to install energy-efficient improvements, such as solar heating. In all cases, she must intend to occupy the property as her main residence. A surviving spouse who remains unmarried after the service-related death of the veteran qualifies. If a remarried spouse survived a veteran who died a service-connected death or on active duty, she may qualify for the home loan guaranty if she remarried on or after Dec. 16, 2003, and was at least 57 years old at the time. The Veterans Affairs guaranty protects the lender against mortgage borrower default by the surviving spouse. Veterans Affairs guarantees 25 percent of the principal home loan balance, but only up to the maximum guaranty amount allowed. The maximum guaranty amount for all properties in the United States but outside of Hawaii, U.S. Virgin Islands, Alaska and Guam is the greater of 25 percent of 125 percent of the median cost for a single family home in the area or $417,000. The guaranty cannot exceed 175 percent of the Freddie Mac loan limit for the property's county. To use the home loan guaranty, the surprising spouse can contact Veterans Affairs directly or ask the mortgage lender for help.

Death Pension

A surviving spouse with low income and the unmarried children of a deceased veteran who served during war may be eligible for a death pension. Eligibility is granted if the veteran was on active duty for at least 90 days -- at least one day of which was during a time of war -- or if the veteran was discharged as a result of a service-related disability. The veteran must not have had a dishonorable discharge. To qualify, a surviving child must be dependent or must have become incapable of supporting himself before the age of 18 because of a disability, and the surviving spouse must be unmarried. Veterans Affairs may require longer service periods from service members who started active duty on Sept. 8, 1980, or later; the same applies to officers who entered active duty on Oct. 16, 1981, or later. The maximum pension award is $7,933 a year for a surviving spouse. A surviving spouse with a dependent child could receive up to $10,385 annually. As with the DIC, additional benefits are available for specific conditions, such as permanently housebound.

Educational Benefits

Veterans Affairs offers various educational benefits to the surviving spouse and dependent children of a veteran. The veteran must have died from a service-related disability or had such a disability at death. A surviving spouse loses eligibility if he remarries or lives with another person as a married couple before turning 57; however, he may regain eligibility if the marriage ends or if he no longer lives as a married couple with another person. A surviving spouse's eligibility period for educational benefits usually expires 10 years from either the date they become eligible or the date of the veteran’s death, but the Veterans Affairs may grant extensions in some cases. According to Veterans Affairs, surviving children typically must be between 18 and 26 to receive educational benefits. Survivors may receive $936 for each month of full-time school attendance for up to 45 months, but the benefit amount is reduced for those attending part-time. Children of a veteran who died on of after Sept. 11, 2001, and in the line of duty may be eligible for Post-911 GI Bill benefits. These benefits cover tuition and other school-related costs. Survivors interested in educational benefits must contact the regional Veterans Affairs office.

About the Author

Anna Assad began writing professionally in 1999 and has published several legal articles for various websites. She has an extensive real estate and criminal legal background. She also tutored in English for nearly eight years, attended Buffalo State College for paralegal studies and accounting, and minored in English literature, receiving a Bachelor of Arts.

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