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VA Updates: What If My Veteran Dies?

End-of-life planning is uncomfortable, which is why so many people avoid it. I know this from personal experience.

What Happens When My Veteran Dies

My father was a wonderful man – a career Army Officer and patriot, a loving husband, and a strong and tough mentor to four children. He was also a lifelong cigarette smoker. So we were not surprised when they discovered he had lung cancer. During his final two years, he put off all efforts to address issues that required he acknowledged he wouldn’t live forever. 
After he died, I spent hours helping my mother with paperwork and taxes, tasks that could have been easily handled when he was alive. Even years later, she still receives inquiries related to his affairs. As we worked through these, I often joked that this was his plan, so she would never forget him.

With this experience, I always admire Veteran spouses when they ask me, “What happens when my Veteran dies?” There are many aspects to a complete answer, but two points that come up most frequently involve continued benefits and the possibility of needing to interact with the VA.

If the Veteran receives disability compensation, the spouse wants to know if these payments will continue. The short answer is no. However, other benefits are available to the spouse that can partially offset the loss of that monthly payment.

DIC – Dependency Indemnity Compensation

One benefit is DIC – Dependency Indemnity Compensation. If their Veteran passed from conditions related to their service connection, this benefit could provide a monthly payment to the spouse, children, and even parents. More details can be found on VA.gov.

Benefits After a Veteran Dies: Survivors Pension

Another benefit is the Survivors Pension. This provides a monthly payment to spouses and children if the Veteran served during time periods defined as Wartime. An essential requirement is the spouse’s income and assets must be below a specific limit, currently about $150,000. Again, more details can be found on VA.gov.


Another aspect of this question about the death of a Veteran involves the fact that the Veteran might be in the midst of the benefits process when he passes. The possibility of dealing with confusing forms and a faceless bureaucracy can be daunting to a grieving spouse. Fortunately, there are two straightforward steps that a surviving spouse can take to resolve these.

The first is what is known as Accrued Benefits. These benefits are available but have not been paid before the Veterans death. This could be because a claim for the benefit was pending, but the VA had all the needed evidence. Or the claim was granted, but the benefit hadn’t been awarded at the time of death. In this example, the surviving spouse could obtain these Accrued Benefits by completing VA Form 21P-601, “Application for Accrued Amounts Due a Deceased Beneficiary.”

The second is known as a Substitution Claim. This allows the person eligible for the Accrued Benefits to substitute for the deceased and work with the VA to provide the needed information to complete the claim. In this example, the surviving spouse could become the substitute by completing VA Form 21P-0847, “Request for Substitution of Claimant Upon Death Claimant.”

Many tasks will need to be completed after a Veteran’s death. These will be harder because of the grief over the loss. Planning during good times can make some of the work less difficult. This is certainly true if the Veteran was service-connected or is still interacting with the VA.
If assistance is needed, reach out to a Veteran Service Officer from your State Department of Veterans Affairs. Many counties also have Veteran Service Officers. They are also available from Veteran Service Organizations – WWP, DAV, The Legion, VFW, etc.

About the Author Paul R. Lawrence

Paul R. Lawrence, Ph.D., served as Under Secretary of Benefits at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs from May 2018 to January 2021. He is the author of “Veterans Benefits for You: Get what You Deserve,” available from Amazon.

Read About Other VA Updates

If you enjoyed learning about coping with the loss of a veteran in the article “What If My Veteran Dies?”, we invite you to read the stories of VA Updates on our blog. In addition to our profiles of celebrities who served, we share military book reviews, veterans’ service reflections, famous military units and more on the TogetherWeServed.com blog. If you are a veteran, find your military buddies, view historic boot camp photos, build a printable military service plaque, and more on TogetherWeServed.com today.



Tags: Accrued Benefits, DAV, DIC – Dependency Indemnity Compensation, Paul R. Lawrence, Substitution Claim, Survivors Pension, The Legion, VA Updates, veterans’ service reflections, VFW, WWP

1 Comment

  1. Bob Innes

    The more planning information the better. Thank you Bob


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