When Americans join the United States military, their spouses and/or dependents are eligible for a wide range of benefits, allowances, education assistance, and more for the service member and family. The benefits available from the military are not quite the same as those offered to spouses and dependents from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VA focuses much of their efforts in helping spouses and dependents of military members who have died or have been seriously injured in the line of duty as a result of military service, etc. This emphasis is narrower than the DoD benefits offered to servicemembers, but the list of programs includes a range of areas that can be helpful for family members.
Qualifying spouses, surviving spouses, and dependents of veterans or currently serving military members may be eligible for one or more important VA benefits. These benefit areas will have varying requirements, application time frames, and benefit duration. They include the following:
- VA Disability Compensation for Spouses and Dependents
- VA Education and Training
- VA Health Care
- VA Home Loans
- Life Insurance
- VA Memorial Benefits and VA Burial Benefit
None of the programs in these categories are “automatic.” All benefits must be applied for with supporting documentation and other information as required by a specific benefit.
VA Disability Compensation for Spouses And Dependents
The Department of Veterans Affairs Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) program offers monthly benefits to surviving spouses and dependents, “in recognition of the economic loss caused by a Servicemember’s death during military service, or by the death of a Veteran as a result of a service-connected disability” according to the VA.
These benefits may also be available under qualifying circumstances for the survivors of a veteran whose death is not service-connected if the veteran was VA-rated as being 100% disabled due to service-connected reasons.
VA DIC Eligibility Requirements
To qualify for VA DIC, a surviving spouse must be:
- Married to a Servicemember who died as a result of military service
- Married the Veteran before January 1, 1957 OR;
- Married the Veteran within 15 years of discharge from the period of military service in which the cause-of-death disease or injury started or was aggravated OR;
- Was married to the Veteran for at least one year OR;
- Had a child with the Veteran, AND lived together with the veteran continuously until the Veteran’s death or, if separated, was not at fault for the separation, AND is not currently remarried.
Surviving spouses who remarry on or after December 16, 2003, and on or after turning 57 years old are permitted to apply for and/or continue receiving DIC.
To qualify for VA DIC, a surviving dependent must be:
- Not included on the surviving spouse’s DIC, AND
- Unmarried, AND
- Under age 18, or between the ages of 18 and 23 and attending school.
VA DIC for Qualifying Dependent Parents
There is an additional program offering compensation to surviving dependent parents of servicemembers or Veterans if the veteran’s death is judged to be service-connected. This VA compensation program is known as Parents’ DIC and is income-based.
VA Education and Training Benefits for Spouses, Dependents, and Survivors
Education benefits are available to spouses and dependents. The Department of Veterans Affairs official site states that family members caring for service-disabled veterans may qualify for career counseling and skills training. Similar opportunities may also be available for dependents of a veteran who qualify for the VA Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance program. Opportunities for qualifying family members include the following under the VA Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program:
- Career Assistance – helping caregivers find the best career options based on ability and interest
- Benefits coaching – Learn how to get the most mileage out of VA benefits and other resources
- Personalized support – Receive academic counseling, re-adjustment assistance, and more may be available depending on need, resources, space available, etc.
You can get help with an application for these benefits via your nearest VA Regional Office.
VA Health Benefits for Family Members of Veterans
According to the VA official site, certain qualifying circumstances make the family members of Veterans eligible for health benefits. These programs may reduce the cost of health care. In some cases, certain expenses may be eliminated entirely depending on the program and its funding.
These programs include, but may not be limited to the following:
- Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA)
- Children of Women Vietnam Veterans (CWVV)
- Spina Bifida (SB)
- Foreign Medical Program (FMP)
- Camp Lejeune Family Member Program (CLFMP)
Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA)
CHAMPVA is a health care benefit program offering coverage for qualifying spouses, and dependents.
Dependents and spouses of veterans are eligible when the veteran:
- Has a VA-rated service-connected medical condition making them permanently and totally disabled, or;
- Was VA-rated as permanently and totally disabled due to a service-connected condition at the time of death, or;
- died of a service-connected medical condition, or;
- died on active duty, and the dependents are not otherwise eligible for TRICARE benefits.
Children of Women Vietnam Veterans
This VA healthcare benefit program is an indemnity plan intended for children with certain birth defects born to women Vietnam Veterans. It offers reimbursement for medical care-related conditions associated with certain birth defects, except spina bifida which is a condition covered under a separate program (see below).
Qualifying criteria for this VA program includes:
- Children whose biological mother is a Vietnam Veteran
- Children conceived after the date on which the Veteran entered the Republic of Vietnam between February 28, 1961, and May 7, 1975
- Children who have “one of the covered birth defects, as determined by the Veterans Benefits Administration” according to the VA.
VA Spina Bifida Program
VA provides benefits payment, vocational training, plus VA-financed health care benefits to “certain Korea and Vietnam Veterans’ birth children” diagnosed with spina bifida (SB). If you are the birth child of a Vietnam Veteran and have been diagnosed with spina bifida defined “as all forms or manifestations of spina bifida (except spina bifida occulta),” you may qualify.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, eligibility for this program requires a diagnosis of spina bifida “as the VA defines it.” This means any form of the condition except for spina bifida occulta. Speak to a physician if you are unsure whether your condition qualifies.
The Denver VA Regional Office is responsible for approving applications for this VA program. Once approved, the office contacts beneficiaries with information about covered and non-covered services, preauthorization requirements, and claims procedures. For more information contact them by phone at 303-914-2900.
The VA Camp Lejeune Family Member Program
Family members of veterans stationed at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953, through December 31, 1987 may be eligible for healthcare benefits due to possible exposure to drinking water contaminated with industrial solvents, benzene, and other contaminants.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is required by federal law to provide health care to veterans who served on active duty at Camp Lejeune and/or reimburse military families for health care expenses associated with a list of illnesses and medical conditions including, but not limited to:
- Bladder cancer
- Breast cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Female infertility
- Hepatic steatosis
- Kidney cancer
- Lung cancer
- Multiple myeloma
- Myelodysplastic syndromes
- Neurobehavioral effects
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Renal toxicity
Certain documentation will be required to be approved for this program. This includes proof the applicant was a legal dependent of the affected veteran and that the applicant was a resident at Camp Lejeune during the effective dates of the exposure. You may be required to submit one or more of the following documents:
- Marriage certificate
- Birth certificate
- Adoption papers
- Other required legal documents
Proof of Camp Lejeune residency may require submission of one or more of the following:
- Military orders;
- Base housing records,
- Utility bill,
- Leave and Earnings Statement
- Tax forms
VA Comprehensive Assistance Family Caregiver Program
Those who act as primary caregivers for veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom may qualify for a VA stipend and access to healthcare coverage provided they are not already entitled to such care or services such as Medicare, Medicaid or worker’s compensation.
Veterans must generally require care for at least six months and need supervision or assistance
with performing basic functions of everyday life. This is defined as “due to a serious injury or mental disorder” which must have happened in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001 according to the VA.
Apply for this program by completing VA Form 10-10CG, Application for Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers Program. This form is used by the Department of Veterans Affairs to determine eligibility. You can also call 1-855-260-3274 for more information.
VA Home Loans for Surviving Spouses
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers VA home loan eligibility to qualifying, not remarried surviving spouses of veterans who died as a result of military service, were killed in action or declared Missing in Action, and Prisoners of War.
There are three basic types of home loans a surviving spouse may qualify for:
- New purchase VA mortgages
- VA Cash-Out Refinancing loans
- VA Interest Rate Reduction Refinance Loans (VA IRRRL)
Qualifying criteria for surviving spouses includes:
- Being an non remarried surviving spouse of a veteran whose death is VA-rated as service-connected
- Being a surviving spouse who remarries after age 57
Surviving spouses should contact the Department of Veterans Affairs to determine eligibility for the program and sign-up for Department of Veterans Affairs Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) program if not already enrolled. Apply via lender using VA Form 26-1817 or via mail the 26-1817 and the veteran’s DD214 (if available) to:
VA Loan Eligibility Center
Attn: COE (262)
PO Box 100034
Decatur, GA 30031
VA Life Insurance Benefits for Surviving Spouses and Dependents
Military spouses are permitted to convert “spousal coverage under Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI)” to an individual plan of insurance with a private insurance company within 120 days of the veteran’s separation from the military. This is permitted without proof of good health.
Those named as beneficiaries of all VA life insurance programs “receive a tax-free monetary death benefit” that has no restrictions on use. Furthermore, those named as a beneficiary under SGLI, VGLI, FSGLI spousal coverage, or TSGLI programs may use the VA’s Beneficiary Financial Counseling Services and Online Will Preparation Services which provide assistance without the need of hiring legal counsel.
The Department of Veterans Affairs also offers an Accelerated Benefit Option, for those with insurance coverage under SGLI and VGLI. Accelerated benefits allows “access to up to half of the value” of the applicable insurance policy if the member has a terminal illness and is diagnosed with fewer than nine months to live.
VA Pension Benefits for Qualifying Surviving Spouses and Dependent Children
The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a need-based pension benefit to the survivors to wartime veterans who meet VA eligibility requirements including a Survivor’s Pension with applicable income and net worth requirements. An additional Pension Allowance is offered to the recipients of the Survivor’s Pension who are housebound or cannot perform daily living activities without assistance.
In all cases, the deceased veteran must meet the following VA requirements:
- For service on or before September 7, 1980, the Veteran must have served at least 90 days on active duty with at least one day during a wartime period as defined by the VA
- For those serving on active duty after September 7, 1980, the veteran 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 wartime period
- The veteran must have a discharge not characterized as Dishonorable.
The Department of Veterans Affairs has the final say as to who is considered eligible to receive these benefits based on the above criteria, plus the recipient’s financial need. Apply for these benefits using the following forms:
- Survivors Pension – VA Form 21-534EZ
- Examination for Housebound Status or Permanent Need for Regular Aid and Attendance (both forms are required when applying for the additional pension allowance) – VA Form 21-2680
VA Memorial Benefits for Surviving Spouses and Dependents
Qualifying surviving spouses and dependents may be eligible for VA burial benefits including interment in one of the 135 VA national cemeteries. These benefits include burial with the veteran, headstone, and perpetual care of the gravesite.
Dependents and spouses eligible for VA burial benefits do not have to be interred at the same cemetery as the veteran. They are eligible even if the veteran is not buried in a VA cemetery.
Spouses and dependents can check their eligibility for this benefit pre-need by filling out VA Form 40-10007, Application for Pre-Need Determination of Eligibility for Burial in a VA National Cemetery and submitting the form via postal mail to:
National Cemetery Scheduling Office
P.O. Box 510543
St. Louis, MO 63151
The form may also be submitted to the VA via toll-free fax by calling 1-855-840-8299. Email submissions are no longer accepted at the time of this writing.
Authorized representatives are permitted to apply for VA burial benefits for qualifying spouses/dependents. An “authorized agent or representative” is someone legally authorized in writing to make choices and legal commitments on the spouse or dependent child’s behalf.
VA rules require the VA to acknowledge this relationship-the authorized representative must complete and submit VA Form 21-22 Appointment of Veterans Service Organization As Claimant Representative or VA Form 21-22a Appointment of Attorney Or Agent As Claimant Representative in order to apply for VA burial benefits on behalf of another person.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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