For those veterans whose death was related to the service connected compensation claim, there is and additional benefit to surviving spouses, known as Dependent and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). This benefit is only for surviving spouses (so not ex-spouses and/or long-time boyfriend/girlfriend). This benefit can also be paid if there are minor dependent children, as long as they are minors (or up to age 23 if in school).
There are several ways to prove that the Veteran’s death was related to the service connected relationship. The first would obviously be if the Veteran died while on active duty. The second is if the veteran was 100% disabled for at least 10 years prior to his death, regardless of the actual cause of death. The third is if the veteran was 100% disabled for at least a year prior to death AND was a prisoner of war AND died after September 30, 1999. Another way is if the veteran was rated as 100% disabled upon exit from active duty and for at least five years prior to death. Finally, if the veteran’s death was contributed to by the service connected injury, regardless of rating percentage, then the spouse can be eligible for benefits.
The cause of death does not need to be exclusively or even primarily the service connected injury. For example, if you had a client who was sustained a lung injury that permanently inhibited lung function, and then that veteran passed away from complications of pneumonia, there is a good chance that a successful DIC claim could be made, because if the lung had been fully functional, there is at least a reasonable chance that the veteran might have been able to survive the pneumonia. As with all claims for service connected compensation, the veteran must be given the benefit of the doubt if there is some doubt as to whether the injury is service connected. In other words, the veteran/spouse must prove that it is at least 50% possible that the claim is valid, as opposed to a preponderance of the evidence or other standard.
If a spouse is successful in their claim for DIC benefits, what amount should they expect to receive? The base answer is $1,319. This amount can be increased if the spouse needs the aid and attendance of another individual by an additional $328. If there are minor/dependent children, this award can be increased by an additional $328 per child. Finally, if the veteran was 100% disabled (including if that award was increased due to unemployability) for at least 8 years prior to the Veteran’s death, then the DIC award will be increased by an additional $280 per month.