Surviving spouses and dependents of honorably discharged or retired members of the U.S. military may be eligible to receive veterans death benefits. These disbursements are separate from what family members may receive of the individual's Social Security death benefits or other pensions. Because of the amount of paperwork involved, families should file for any applicable death benefits as soon as possible.
About Veterans Death Benefits
Also called Veterans Survivor's Benefits, these funds are paid directly to the family from the federal government. How much each family receives depends on the individual and how he or she died. Here are a few of the options available. A complete list can be found on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Web site. Information can also be found by calling (800) 827-1000. Individuals can apply for these benefits by filing form VA Form 21-534. Copies of either a marriage license or children's birth certificates should be included when filing, as well as proof of the service person's death.
Veterans Affairs Death Pension
This is a needs-based benefit paid to the individual's surviving spouse and children. Requirements include:
- The surviving spouse must not have remarried.
- Dependent children must be unmarried.
- The veteran must have received an honorable discharge.
- The deceased veteran must have served 90 days of active duty with one day being during a period of wartime.
- If the individual enlisted after September 7, 1980, he or she must have served at least two years of his or her required active duty order (there are exceptions to this requirement).
- The survivor's countable income is below the yearly limit set by Congress.
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation
Another form of death benefits is Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), which is available to eligible survivors of a:
- Veteran whose death was from a service-related disease or injury
- Veteran who died from non-service-related disease or injury AND who was entitled to or was receiving compensation from the VA for a service-related injury that left the individual completely disabled for at least 10 years before his or her death OR for at least one year before he or she died if the individual was a prisoner of war and who died after September 30, 1999
The benefits are given to an eligible surviving spouse who:
- Married the veteran before January 1, 1957
- Was married to a member of the military who died in the line of duty
- Wed the veteran within 15 years from the time the service person was discharged because of a disease or injury that caused the individual's death or made it worse
- Was married to a veteran for at least one year
- Had a child with him or her AND lived with the individual until the veteran's death; if separated, was not at fault for the separation
- Is not remarried (this is subject to exceptions; check with the VA for details)
The veterans death benefits are also available for dependent children who:
- Not included in the surviving spouse's DIC benefits
- Are unmarried
- Under 18 years old OR under 23 and attending school (Exceptions are also made here)
The surviving spouse is entitled to $1,067 a month (as of January 2008), and the rate increases for each dependent child or if the spouse is disabled and needs assistance. A benefit rate table can be found on the VA Web site.
Several types of burial benefits and allowances are given to deceased, honorably discharged veterans and their families:
- $300 reimbursement for burial expenses for a veteran if he or she was receiving a VA pension or disability benefit
- $2,000 reimbursement if the veteran died during active duty or from a service-related injury
- $300 burial plot allowance for the individual who was not interred at a national cemetery but received VA pension or disability benefits or died at a VA hospital or VA health-care facility
- Transportation allowance will be reimbursed for veterans who died at a VA hospital or VA health-care facility
- A U.S. flag
- A headstone or marker purchased and shipped at the federal government's expense to the burial site. The application for the headstone can be filled out prior to the service person's discharge and placed with discharge papers or the family can request one on the individual's behalf
Veterans can be buried in a national cemetery such as Arlington National Cemetery for free. This service includes the plot, a burial flag, opening and closing of the grave, care of site, government headstone and a Presidential Memorial Certificate. Veterans who wish to be cremated can also receive the same treatment as those who are buried in a national cemetery. Similar care and cost is available for the individual's spouses and dependents.
Veterans may also be buried in a private cemetery and may be eligible to receive certain allowances and reimbursements, but will not have their entire burial paid for by the VA. Spouses and dependents are not covered as well if burial takes place in a private cemetery.
The VA offers many more programs for veterans and their families. Each branch of the military may also have different information specific to your needs. For example, the VA does not cover burial at sea, but the U.S. Navy Mortuary Affairs office does provide specifics about that.