Welcome to the RG Disability Law Blog! Because this is our first post, I wanted to take a moment to explain that this post and those hereafter are for informational purposes only. These posts are not legal advice and are intended only to assist the general public with gaining a better understanding of the types of claims and legal issues that exist when dealing with Veterans Affairs and Social Security.
The goal of today’s post is to provide a basic summary of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). The question of whether an individual is eligible for DIC arises upon the death of a veteran. Death itself is a very emotional topic and can be hard to address. While the content of this post is purely informational, we want to communicate that we understand the amount of pain that a loss of life can cause, especially under circumstances which could make a surviving family member eligible for DIC.
What is Dependency and Indemnity Compensation?
DIC is a monthly benefit payment awarded to an eligible, surviving family member of a veteran who lost his/her life under service-connected circumstances or who was rated at total disability (also referred to as TDIU) for a certain period of time before death.
Which Family Members Can Qualify?
If certain qualifications are met, a surviving spouse, surviving child, or surviving parent can qualify for DIC.
The surviving spouse is usually the first in line to be eligible for DIC. In order to be considered a surviving spouse, the spouse must not currently be remarried and must have cohabitated with the veteran continuously until the veteran’s death (in limited circumstances, a spouse who was separated from and no longer cohabitating with the veteran may qualify for this benefit). Cohabitation simply means that the surviving spouse and veteran lived together. The surviving spouse must also meet one of the following criteria: (1) the spouse was married to the veteran who died on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training; (2) the spouse validly married the veteran before January 1, 1957; (3) the spouse married the veteran within fifteen years of discharge from the period of military service; or, (4) the spouse was married to the veteran for at least one year.
A surviving child will be considered eligible if the child is unmarried and under the age of 18. However, if the child is currently in school, the maximum eligible age to qualify for this benefit will be increased to 23. Further, a surviving child need not be the biological offspring of the veteran; instead, he/she may be adopted by the veteran or be the veteran’s stepchild through marriage. In the instance of adoption, the surviving child will need to prove legal adoption. This is typically done through the use of an adoption decree or an adoptive placement agreement. It is also important to note that if the surviving spouse is receiving DIC, the surviving child must not be included in the surviving spouse’s DIC calculation in order for the child to be considered eligible.
While a spouse or child may receive this benefit regardless of income, a surviving parent can only receive DIC if the parent has limited revenue. As of 2018, a single parent may earn no more than $13,456 in one year to be considered eligible. If there are two parents living together, this amount is increased (as of 2018, $18,087). Thus, a parent will be more likely to qualify if he/she was dependent upon the veteran for financial support.
Does the Manner in Which a Veteran Passes Affect Whether a Surviving Family Member Can Receive DIC?
The answer is no. There are two common circumstances under which the manner of a veteran’s death will create eligibility for DIC: death in-service and death due to service-connected condition. A veteran who dies while totally disabled may also create eligibility for DIC.
With regard to death in-service, under the majority of cases, the VA will conclude that the veteran died from a service-connected event. The only times that the VA will potentially deny a DIC claim are when the veteran engaged in misconduct which led to the veteran’s death, or suicide. With that being said, an individual who applies for DIC under a death in-service event should not have difficulty receiving this benefit (assuming all other qualifications are met).
Death due to service-connected condition
Under death due to service-connected condition, a veteran’s surviving family member will need to show that the veteran’s death was contributorily caused by a condition that he/she was service-connected for by the VA. For example, let us say a veteran served in Vietnam and was exposed to agent orange. Later, the veteran developed cancer because of said agent orange exposure and received service-connection. If the veteran were to then pass away from complications of this cancer, a surviving family member would be able to claim that his death was due to a service-connected disease. An easy way to prove this would be to submit a certificate of death, which would have cancer listed as the principal or contributory cause.
DIC for surviving family members of totally disabled veterans
The previous two instances required the veteran’s death to have been directly related to his/her military service, but the VA will also provide DIC to a survivor whose veteran was totally disabled prior to death. There are three specific circumstances in which a veteran’s surviving family member will qualify. First, a survivor will be eligible if the veteran was totally disabled for 10 years immediately prior to the veteran’s death. Second, a surviving member will be eligible if a veteran is totally disabled immediately following discharge until death. Here, the veteran must be totally disabled for at least 5 years. The purpose of this is to provide an exception to the 10-year rule for veterans who are totally disabled when discharged. Third, a survivor will be eligible if the veteran was a prisoner of war and totally disabled for at least 1 year.
In some circumstances a veteran will pass while totally disabled but will not have the sufficient time requirements. For example, a veteran becomes service-connected for total disability years after serving, but has only been service-connected at this rate for 8 years upon death. Although the veteran has only been service-connected for 8 years, an eligible survivor can receive DIC if he/she can show that the veteran should have been service-connected another 2 years prior to the date that the VA awarded service-connection (thus qualifying under the 10-year rule). This is commonly proven via clear and unmistakable error, which is a topic that will be discussed in future posts.
To summarize DIC at its most basic level, an individual must qualify as an eligible survivor and the deceased veteran’s death must have been caused by a service-connected condition or the veteran must have been totally disabled for a specific amount of time. It is important to remember that this is just a general summary and that a multitude of factors can affect a claim for DIC. If you are the surviving family member of a deceased veteran and feel that some of this information relates to you, you should contact an attorney to determine whether you have claim.