Veterans Corner: Understanding Veteran’s Survivor Benefits

by Jim Pedersen, VSO & Director of Moore County Veterans Service Office

Through a variety of death benefit programs, the Veterans Administration assists widows and surviving family members following a veteran’s death. Death benefits may be one-time payments or ongoing payments that provide supplemental income to widows and dependents.

Because benefits do not automatically start upon the veteran’s death, survivors must apply and provide the deceased veteran’s DD-214 (discharge paperwork) and a death certificate. Spouses will need their marriage certificate and surviving children will need a birth certificate. Divorced spouses do not qualify for death benefits. 

One-time payments and benefits:

Funeral costs: The VA will pay for a portion of an eligible veteran’s burial and funeral costs. Reimbursement is typically between $300 and $2,000 and a paid receipt from the funeral home is required upon application. The VA will deny a request for reimbursement if another agency reimbursed any portion of the funeral expenses. Survivors should keep in mind that this is a reimbursement program and does not cover any costs up front.  

Headstones/grave markers: Government headstones and grave markers noting a veteran’s service are available for any deceased veteran who received an honorable discharge or for any service member who died on active duty. Grave markers are not available to those who served in the National Guard or Reserves unless the veteran was called to active duty or he or she died during service or training. However, National Guard or Reserve retirees are entitled to the headstone/grave marker. 

Non-service Connected Death Pension:

This pension is awarded to low-income surviving spouses and dependent children. The veteran must have met basic eligibility requirements for VA benefits but need not have received VA compensation or pension benefits before their death.

The surviving spouse must meet Federal income requirements and show proof of marriage. Dependent children may be entitled to death pension benefits on their own merit if they meet income requirements, are not in the custody of the surviving spouse or if there is no surviving spouse. There is no time limit to apply for death pension. Survivors who are denied because they do not meet the income requirements can re-apply at a later date if their income drops below the limit.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC):

DIC is a tax-free monthly payment available to eligible surviving spouses, children and dependent parents when the veteran’s death was service- connected. Dependent children under age 18, children between the ages of 18 and 23 who are attending an approved school may also qualify for DIC. Very rarely, low-income dependent parents may receive DIC. Survivors can qualify for DIC even if the veteran was not receiving disability payments for a service-connected condition. For example, survivors of a Vietnam veteran who died from prostate cancer, which is a service-connected condition related to Agent Orange exposure, may receive DIC payments even though the veteran did not receive disability payments for his prostate cancer. 

In some limited instances, the VA may award DIC when the veteran did not die from a service-connected disability. The deceased veteran must have had a 100% service-connected disability for at least 10 years prior to his death; had a 100% service-connected disability since separation from the service and died five or more years after separation; or was a POW who was receiving 100% compensation for at least one year before death.

Survivor’s Pension is paid to surviving spouses and unmarried dependent children of wartime veterans. The surviving spouse must not have remarried and there are income and net worth limits for this program. 

In order for a surviving spouse to qualify for Survivor’s Pension, the veteran must have either:

  • Entered active duty on or before Sept. 7, 1980 and served at least 90 days active duty with at least one day during a wartime period;
  • Entered active duty after Sept. 7, 1980 and served at least 24 months with at least one day during a wartime period;
  • Entered active duty after Oct. 16, 1991 and had not previously served on active duty for at least 24 months.

Restored Entitlement Program for Survivors (REPS) is a Social Security program administered by the VA that supplements benefits for survivors of veterans whose Social Security benefits were reduced or eliminated. Surviving spouses and children of veterans who died on active duty before Aug. 13, 1981 or who died after that date as a direct result of a service-connected disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty are eligible for REPS.

For assistance filing a VA disability claim, contact the Moore County Veterans Service Office. One of the county’s three nationally-accredited Veterans Service Officers will help you prepare your claim, file it and guide you through the process from start to finish. In accordance with federal law, all services are free. Appointments are necessary and may be made by calling the office at 910-947-3257 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

VSO Jim Pedersen, right, is the director of the Moore County Veterans Service Office. Experienced nationally-certified VSOs Kelly Greene, and Robert “Bob” Hall, a Vietnam-era veteran who retired from the Army after 30 years of service, assist Moore County veterans with their disability claims.