The surviving spouse (widow or widower) of a veteran may be eligible for Veterans Administration (VA) benefits. Types of VA surviving spouse benefits include Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), death (survivors) pension, housebound pension and Aid & Attendance.
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation
The VA provides tax-free monetary benefits called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) to the surviving spouses of service members who died while on:
- active duty (full-time military service)
- active duty for training (full-time duty performed by members of the Reserves for training purposes)
- inactive duty training (authorized training performed by a member of the Reserves not on active duty or active duty for training)
DIC is also paid to surviving spouses if the veteran’s death:
- resulted from a service-connected injury or disease, OR
- resulted from a non-service-related injury or disease, and the veteran was receiving compensation for a service-connected disability for (1) at least 10 years immediately before death, or (2) since the veteran’s release from active duty and for at least five years immediately preceding death, or (3) at least one year before death if the veteran was a former prisoner of war who died after September 30, 1999.
Other eligibility requirements include:
- the surviving spouse was married to a service member who died on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training, OR
- was validly married to the veteran before January 1, 1957, OR
- married the veteran within 15 years of discharge from the period of military service in which the disease or injury that caused the veteran’s death began or was aggravated, OR
- was married to the veteran for at least one year, OR
- had a child with the veteran, AND
- cohabitated with the veteran continuously until the veteran’s death or, if separated, was not at fault for the separation, AND
- is not currently remarried
(Surviving spouses who are age 57 or older and remarry on or after December 16, 2003 can continue to receive DIC.)
DIC has been paid to survivors in various forms since the Revolutionary War. The basic monthly rate is $1257.95 (the veteran died on or after January 1, 1993). The rate goes up by $311.64 for each dependent child. There are also increases for surviving spouses who qualify for housebound pensions (an additional $145.99) or Aid & Attendance (an additional $311.64).
DIC may be payable to a surviving spouse if the veteran served in the Republic of Vietnam from January 9, 1962 to May 7, 1975 and died as result of a ‘covered’ herbicide disease (Agent Orange Act of 1991).
Approximately 326,000 surviving spouses currently receive Disability and Indemnity Compensation.
VA Pensions for Surviving Spouses
Surviving spouses who are low income, or need long-term care (or both) may be eligible for a VA pension. There are three levels of VA pensions for surviving spouses: the Survivors Pension (also called a Death Pension or Basic Pension); Housebound Pension and Aid and Attendance Pension.
To qualify for a pension, the veteran of a surviving spouse:
- must have served at least 90 days of active duty, with at least one day during an eligible period of war, AND
- was discharged from the service under other than dishonorable conditions
The Survivors Pension is a tax-free, monetary benefit for un-remarried surviving spouses of wartime veterans. It is a needs-based benefit for widows and widowers of any age. To receive the benefit, the surviving spouse must have countable income below a yearly limit set by Congress. The current annual income limit is $8656 for a surviving spouse with no dependent children, and $11,330 for a surviving spouse with one dependent child (add $2,205 for each additional child).
Surviving spouses who qualify for a survivor pension may receive an additional monetary benefit if they are substantially confined to their immediate premises because of permanent disability.
Surviving Spouse Aid & Attendance Benefit
Aid & Attendance is a special, tax-free pension for veterans and surviving spouses who need long-term care, either at home or in a care facility. It is a monthly monetary benefit that includes the VA’s Survivors Pension.
To qualify for the benefit, the surviving spouse must need help with some of the daily tasks of living, like bathing and dressing. According to a 2010 national survey of veterans and family members, 16.3 percent of surviving spouses needed help with personal (daily living) care.
Home care can be provided by a friend, family member or professional caregiver.
The benefit can also be used to help pay for adult day care, board and care, assisted living and skilled nursing home care.
The maximum Aid and Attendance benefit for a surviving spouse is $1,153 per month ($13,836 per year).
VA Marriage Rules
The VA’s marriage rules are defined by law. According to the statute, a marriage is considered a marriage if it was “valid…according to the law of the place where the parties resided at the time of the marriage or the law of the place where the parties resided when the right to benefits accrued.”
This means the VA recognizes a veteran’s marriage if the marriage was recognized under the law of the place where at least one of the parties resided when they were married, or when the claimant became eligible for benefits.
Following the 2015 Supreme Court ruling (Obergefell v. Hodges) that same-sex couples have the right to marry, the VA now recognizes same-sex marriages without regard to a Veteran’s state of residence, either current or previous.
When determining whether or not to accept a common law marriage, the VA will apply state law. If the state in which the veteran resides recognizes common law marriages, and the common law marriage requirements have been met, the VA will recognize the marriage.
Are you or a loved-one a surviving spouse who needs financial assistance to pay for long-term care? Contact one of our benefit consultants today at 877-427-8065 to find out more about the VA Aid & Attendance benefit.