How do VA survivor pensions work? Who is eligible for them? This benefit is made available from the Department of Veterans Affairs to qualifying, low-income children or surviving spouses of military members.
These military members must have died with wartime service listed in their military records for the spouses to be eligible to apply for the benefit.
The VA Survivors Pension, Also Known As the “Death Benefit”
The official site for the Department of Veterans Affairs notes that a VA benefit formerly known as a Death Benefit is offered to surviving spouses and children of qualifying service members was once the norm.
In modern times, this benefit is known as the VA Survivors Pension (or simply “Survivor Pension” as it is sometimes called) and should not be confused with VA burial benefits, state and local burial options, or funds paid upon the death of a service member related to life insurance or other coverage.
The VA official site defines the Survivor Pension as a benefit exempt from federal taxation, payable “to a low-income, un-remarried surviving spouse or unmarried child(ren) of a deceased Veteran with wartime service.”
Who Qualifies For The VA Survivor Pension
Basic VA requirements to be approved for the Survivor Pension include the following:
- The veteran must not have a Dishonorable Discharge
- The veteran served a minimum 90 days of active duty service
- At least one day of that service was during a time of war
The recipient must also meet some standards set by the Department of Veterans Affairs. There are two areas the applicant must meet certain need-based standards that examine the applicant’s net worth and countable income.
Countable income has a specific definition according to the VA, at least where this program is concerned. Your countable income may include earnings or pay “from most sources” and that can include money from “any eligible dependents.”
VA countable income includes “disability and retirement payments, interest and dividend payments from annuities”. You may find that net income from farming, or business earnings may also be counted.
The applicant’s net worth, for the purposes of approving or denying an application for a Survivor Pension, is defined as “the sum of a claimant’s or beneficiary’s assets and annual income.”
Net worth caps may vary depending on circumstances, legislation, changes to the program, or other variables, but the VA official site reports the net worth limit effective December 1, 2018 is $127,061.
The rules for Survivor Pension approval in this area include, but not limited to, the following:
- The applicant’s income is under the limit listed in the VA Survivors Pension Rate Table.
- The applicant’s net worth meets the limits set for the Community Spouse Resource Allowance (established by Congress for Medicaid).
- The applicant is either an unremarried surviving spouse or was previously married but the marriage legally ended before Nov. 1, 1990 OR.
- The applicant is an unmarried child of the deceased Veteran under 18 years old OR,
- Was a depending child permanently disabled before the age of 18 OR,
- The applicant is a dependent child (between 18 and 23 years old) enrolled in an approved educational institution.
VA regulations add that in cases where the deceased Veteran entered active duty after Sept. 7, 1980, the requirement is a minimum of 24 months of active-duty service OR in cases where If the length of service is less than 24 months, “the Veteran must have completed their entire tour of active duty.”
How The VA Calculates The Survivor’s Pension
The Department of Veterans Affairs uses a standardized formula to determine the amount of pension applicable in each case. There is a maximum annual pension rate (the VA MAPR) listed for a specific set of circumstances; the applicant should meet the requirements for a specific pay rate, and the VA will make the calculation of that rate based on:
- “Countable income” which is calculated by subtracting certain exclusions provided by law from your total annual income.
- The countable income is subtracted from the MAPR. The sum of this calculation equals the applicant’s yearly pension entitlement.
- The VA divides that amount by 12, rounding up to the nearest dollar, and the total is viewed as an “approximate amount” of the monthly Survivor Pension.
You read the list above correctly-the VA is required to take out certain expenses (including payments for unreimbursed medical expenses), from the applicant’s annual household income.
But there are an additional considerations; for example, VA rules for having unreimbursed medical expenses deducted from your countable income state, “You can apply the portion of your unreimbursed medical expenses only if the expenses exceed 5% of the maximum annual rate allowed by Congress.”
Doing so lowers the amount of your countable income, and as a result makes it possible to get a higher monthly payment of Survivor Pension benefits.
How To Apply For The VA Survivor Pension
Applying for this VA benefit requires completion of VA Form 21P-534EZ, Application for DIC, Death Pension, and/or Accrued Benefits. Complete the form according to the instructions, and mail or fax it to the VA Pension Management Center in charge of your geographic location.
Where To Mail VA Form 21P-534EZ
Depending on your location, you may need to mail or fax the completed VA Form 21P-534EZ to one of the following locations / jurisdictions:
Philadelphia VA Regional Office Department of Veterans Affairs Claims Intake Center
Attention: Philadelphia Pension Center
PO Box 5206 Janesville, WI
Areas of responsibility include Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and all other foreign countries not listed under the St. Paul VA Regional Office (see below).
Milwaukee VA Pension Center Department of Veterans Affairs Claims Intake Center
Attention: Milwaukee Pension Center
Janesville, WI 53547-5
PO Box 5192
Areas of responsibility include Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.
St. Paul VA Regional Office Department of Veterans Affairs Claims Intake Center
Attention: St. Paul Pension Center
PO BOX 5365
Janesville, WI 53547-5365
Areas of responsibility include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.
Don’t Forget To File Supporting Documentation
The VA requires submission of the veteran’s Death Certificate unless the death occurred on active duty. You will also need to supply medical records including all documentation of private treatment relevant to the claim. For example, the VA asks Survivors Pension applicants to submit any medical record or other document that can show that a disability the veteran had prior to military service was aggravated by military duty.
The VA specifically asks claimants in such cases, “please provide any information or evidence in your possession regarding the health condition that existed before the veteran’s entry into service.”
The VA official site declares a requirement to identify,”any of the veteran’s treatment records available at a Federal facility, such as a VA medical center, that supports your claim that a service-connected disability caused the veteran’s death or the veteran’s death was caused by the VA.”
You will also need to furnish records showing your countable income, net worth, and other details as required by current program regulations.
Those claiming certain VA benefits as a parent of a deceased veteran will be required to submit income information and, if claiming benefits as the foster parent of the veteran, a completed VA Form 21P-524, Statement of Person Claiming to Have Stood in Relation of Parent.
This may or may not apply to your Survivor Pension procedures depending on circumstances, current VA program requirements, and federal law.
VA Survivor Pensions And The VA Fully Developed Claim (FDC) Program
The VA wants applicants for Survivor Pension benefits to consider using its Fully Developed Claim (FDC) Program, described by the VA as “the fastest way” to get VA claims processed.
To submit an application for a Survivor Pension under the FDC program, you will need to review the requirements at the VA official site, and also be prepared to submit income and asset information for determining net worth and countable income.
In cases where the applicant needs a Survivor Pension with a special monthly pension, submit VA Form 21-2680, Examination for Housebound Status or Permanent Need for Regular Aid and Attendance, OR VA Form 21-0779, Request for Nursing Home Information in Connection with Claim for Aid and Attendance for nursing home patients.
submit your claim in accordance with the “FDC Criteria” shown below. If you are making a claim for veterans disability compensation or related compensation benefits, use VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits.
When claiming veterans Pension benefits fill out VA Form 21P-527EZ, Application for Veterans Pension.
The VA reminds applicants that there is no risk to submit a claim via the FDC process. Those who submit claims via the FDC Program may find that in certain cases other records are required to fully process the claim.
In such cases, “VA will simply remove the claim from the FDC Program (Optional Expedited Process) and process it in the Standard Claim Process” so when using FDC, it will be important to keep track of the claim in case it has to revert to a standard process.