Unfortunately, VA’s disability benefit system moves too slow for many veterans. Many veterans pass away before they receive the benefits they should.
If you are a widow of a veteran, this can put you in a confusing situation. Can you qualify for VA dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) benefits if your veteran’s disability was not service connected before death?
In this article, I am going to address that question and discuss many of the situations in which it arises.
Does the veteran have to qualify for VA disability benefits before death in order for me to receive DIC widow’s benefits?
No. Your veteran does not have to have a decision from VA before death granting service connection in order for you to qualify for VA DIC widow’s benefits.
If your veteran has a pending VA disability claim, you may be able to actually go in and substitute yourself in place of the veteran in order to keep the claim ongoing. This can be especially important if your veteran has fought with VA for months or years to try to get VA to grant service connection.
VA has special rules about who can substitute for a veteran and when that person has to file a request for substitution. In addition to getting the benefits your veteran should have received prior to death, substitution may allow you to establish service-connection for a particular condition prior to your veteran’s death. If you establish service connection for the condition which caused your veteran’s death, you are most of the way to establishing entitlement to VA benefits.
Can I qualify for DIC benefits if my veteran applied for VA disability benefits while living but was denied?
Your veteran may have applied for VA benefits and was denied while still alive, you may wonder whether you can apply for and receive VA DIC widows benefits. There are two type of situation where this happens:
- Your veteran receives a denial from VA but appeals that denial and the appeal is still pending when your veteran dies (in this situation, you will normally be able to substitute in for your veteran as I have described above).
- Your veteran receives a denial from VA and does not appeal (or your veteran appeals but the appeal is denied and becomes final at some point before your veteran dies)
In either of these situation, you can still potentially qualify for VA DIC widows benefits. Substitution allows you to go after the benefits your veteran was due before death. Filing for VA DIC widows benefits allows you to get the survivors benefits that should be paid to you if your veteran died from a service-connected disability or was service-connected at 100% for ten years prior to death.
Just because your veteran did not win their claim, that does not prevent you from making an application. You can try to gather the evidence you need to prove service-connection to VA.
Think of it in much the same way as a veteran who applies for VA disability benefits. If that veteran gets denied, he or she can later file to reopen the case with additional evidence and potentially win.
It is not different for survivors of veterans who apply for DIC benefits. You are kind of in the same boat as your veteran. You can make your own application to essentially reopen the case.
If you can see what VA was missing when they previously denied your veteran, you can hopefully see what evidence VA was missing. Then you can go get that evidence and pursue the claim and make it stronger that your veteran was able to while they were still alive.
Just because your veteran was previously denied does not mean you get denied automatically. Do not let VA tell you that.
What if my veteran never filed for VA disability benefits before death?
This is a third situation that confuses many people about VA DIC benefits. Can you qualify for them if your veteran never filed for VA disability benefits before death?
Yes, you can. You are not prevented from now making an application as a survivor. Even though your veteran may not have applied for benefits or received benefits while he was alive for a service connected disability, you can still apply for and potentially receive VA survivors benefits now.
To do so, you can simply file your application for dependency and indemnity compensation and VA should start processing that claim. You may be able to take advantage of certain VA presumptions, especially if your veteran was a Vietnam veteran. As long as you are an eligible beneficiary and can demonstrate service connection for the condition that led to your veteran’s death, you should be able to qualify for VA DIC benefits.
Proving service connection after the death of a veteran
Dealing with VA can be difficult. It can be especially difficult to prove service connection to VA when your veteran has passed away. But, that should not discourage you from applying for benefits if you believe your veteran’s death was connected to their service.
Presumptions, like the Agent Orange presumption for Vietnam veterans, make proving service connection for certain conditions a lot easier. Even if your veteran does not qualify for a presumption. there is often enough evidence to provide VA with the proof they need to grant service connection. You just need to put it together correctly.
Many people want help applying for VA DIC benefits or gathering the evidence needed by VA. A veterans disability attorney can be helpful in doing that.
Before making a decision about whether you need to hire one to help you. I would suggest that you schedule a free consultation. This will help you learn how having an attorney could help.
Setting up a free consultation is easy and only takes a few minutes. Just complete and submit the form on this page to schedule a free VA DIC benefits consultation.