Far too often, we represent veterans who need a medical opinion or supporting statements that are not in the file. Other times, a failure on behalf of the VA needs to be pointed out and addressed. Do not risk losing your case due to substandard representation.
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Nothing is more difficult than losing a loved one. Everybody here at the Law Offices of Peter S. Cameron would like to personally thank, not only the Veterans who have passed away, but we would also like to thank their surviving spouses, children, and other family members for all they do to support our Veterans and our communities.
We have had the extraordinary honor of assisting surviving spouses (and dependents) secure Dependency and Indemnity Compensation benefits following the passing of their loved ones.
It is important to note that Veterans’ disability compensation payments (i.e. for service-connected disabilities such as PTSD, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, hypertension, back injuries, etc.) do not continue after the Veteran’s passing. Instead, surviving spouses (and dependents) must apply for what is known as Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). DIC is a tax-free monetary benefit paid to eligible survivors of Servicemembers who died in the line of duty, or eligible survivors of Veterans whose death resulted from a service-related injury or disease, or Veterans who died as the result of a non-service-connected injury, but who had other service-connected disabilities along with other qualifying criteria. As all military families know, the caring for a wounded Veteran oftentimes falls to the Veteran’s spouse and children. As such, DIC benefits unofficially represent a small gesture of gratitude for all spouses and other family members have done to support Veterans during their lifetimes.
DIC-like benefits have been paid out to survivors of Servicemember/Veterans ever since the Revolutionary War. During the Civil War, survivor benefits were expanded. Then, in 1917, Congress passed the War Risk Insurance Act which changed the system to meet the needs of World War I Veterans and their survivors. In 1956, as a result of what has become known as the Bradley Report, the death compensation system began to look similar to the system that is in use today. Although there have been a few tweaks to the DIC program since 1956 (i.e. in 1969, years of service no longer was used as a determining factor in entitlement to benefits, and rate tables were eliminated and a flat monthly rate was reinstated; in 2003, it was determined that surviving spouses who remarried after turning 57 years old would still be able to retain their DIC benefits), not much else has changed with the DIC program in recent times.
There is no statute of limitations or time limit for filing for DIC benefits. Nevertheless, you should apply for DIC as soon as possible following the Veteran’s death. For claims based on a Veteran’s death in service, the effective date is the first day of the month in which the Veteran died, or was presumed to have died, so long as the DIC claim was filed within 1 year of the date of the report of the Veteran’s actual or presumed death. Otherwise, the effective date will be the date the DIC claim was actually filed with the proper VA Pension Management Center.
If the Veteran’s death occurred after service and the DIC claim was filed within 1 year of their death, the effective date will be the first day of the month in which the Veteran died. If the death happened after service and the DIC claim was filed more than 1 year after the Veteran’s death, the effective date will be the date the DIC claim was received by the VA Pension Management Center.
In order to apply for DIC benefits, you must complete VA Form 21P-534ez, “Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Death Pension and/or Accrued Benefits by a Surviving Spouse or Child.” There are other forms that may be required depending upon your specific circumstances, that is why consulting an experienced veterans’ disability attorney is so important. Forms are submitted to the Pension Management Center that services your particular State. Please remember that you should always apply for Burial Benefits (which can be done on the same VA Form 21P-534ez, or other applicable forms) as there are various allowances given depending upon the circumstances of the particular Veteran and surviving spouse.
As of December 1, 2019, the last date the VA published updated award tables, (assuming the Veteran died after January 1, 1993), the fixed monthly tax-free benefit amount is $1,340.14. There are additional monthly “allowances” that can be awarded on top of the base benefit. For example, there is a $284.57 monthly allowance if a service-connected disability rated totally disabling was continuous for a period of at least 8 years immediately preceding death and the surviving spouse was married to the Veteran for those same 8 years. Additionally, for each dependent child under age 18, there are additional allowances (effective December 1, 2019) of $332.00, per child. If the surviving spouse is entitled to Aid & Attendance, there is an allowance of $332.00. If the surviving spouse is entitled to Housebound, there is an allowance of $155.53. If the surviving spouse has one or more children under the age 18 on the award, a 2-year transitional benefit of $286.00 (effective December 1, 2019) may be awarded.
DIC benefits will be discontinued if a surviving spouse remarries. However, DIC benefits may be restored if the subsequent marriage is ended for any reason (i.e. death, divorce, annulment). A surviving spouse can continue to receive DIC benefits if he/she remarried on or after reaching age 57 and on or after December 16, 2003.
REQUIREMENTS FOR A SUCCESSFUL DIC BENEFIT CLAIM:
DIC benefits, like most other governmental programs, contain requirements that must be met before you can be approved for said benefits. Requirements not only of the Veteran, but also requirements of the surviving spouse both must be satisfied. Importantly, the VA does not consider income/assets when determining DIC eligibility. Please note, there is a separate and distinct pension program, unrelated to the DIC program, which does take into account income/assets in determining eligibility for that program.
In order to be granted DIC benefits, applicants must put forth evidence establishing certain criteria that both the Veteran and surviving spouse must meet. As for what is required from the surviving spouse, they must have been:
Next, with respect to what must be proven on behalf of the Veteran, the DIC applicant must be able to show that:
Even though a Veteran died of a non-service-connected cause, the VA will pay death benefits to the surviving spouse (and dependents) in the same manner as if the Veteran’s death were service-connected, if:
It is important that you consult an experienced veterans’ disability attorney to ensure the appropriate arguments are made for the unique circumstances of your particular case. Far too often the VA denies initial applications for DIC benefits. That is where we come in. We have helped a number of families secure the DIC benefits they deserved. Please note that you do not pay any upfront attorney fees for a DIC appeal. Rather, if we are successful in securing your DIC benefits, a fee of 20% would be collected out of the back-pay only. All future payments going forward, from the day the VA grants your DIC benefits, will be 100% yours, tax-free. Therefore, retaining an experienced attorney is affordable and practical.
Unfortunately, we see a number of DIC claims improperly denied by the VA Regional Office staff by incorrectly applying the law or applying the incorrect law altogether. Moreover, we see a great majority of denied DIC claims due to lack of evidence showing the Veteran died of a service-connected disability as a principal or contributory cause of the Veteran’s death.
Our attorneys will aggressively work to identity a service-connection, even if the Veteran had not been granted service-connection prior to their death. We often find service connectable issues that spouses and family members were not aware of. Our attorneys will gather the evidence needed to satisfy the VA’s requirements. We will utilize our extensive network of doctors and other medical experts to review records, provide expert consultation, and, where necessary, draft medical opinions supporting our legal arguments.
Even if a Veteran’s cause of death was not a service-connected disability, the VA will consider whether any service-connected disability was a contributing cause to the Veteran’s passing, with a proper medical opinion. In many cases, service-connection for diabetes, heart issues, hypertension, and other diseases affecting vital organs, including cancers and related treatment, must be given special attention. We have had great success linking Veterans’ causes of death to their service. Oftentimes, the causal connections are not evident, apparent or even logical. Nevertheless, we will utilize the VA laws, which were designed to favor Veterans, and apply sound legal arguments to link the Veteran’s cause of death to their time in service.