Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) Benefits

Dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) are benefits which are paid to certain survivors of a veteran.  These survivor benefits are paid in two primary situations:

  1. When a veteran who has a 100% rating for at least ten years prior to death dies for any reason
  2. When a veteran dies because of a service-connected disability

100% (total) disability for ten years prior to death

Regardless of the reason the veteran died, eligible survivors of veterans  will qualify for DIC if the veteran had a 100% disability (either because of TDIU or otherwise) for ten years prior to the veteran’s death.  This is sometimes easily established if the veteran was already receiving benefits.  However, it can also be established after the veteran’s death if the veteran had a pending claim with an early enough effective date.  If you want to do this with a pending claim, then the eligible survivor will probably want to substitute for the veteran in the pending claim.

In some situations, the ten years prior to death can be shortened to five years or one year.  These shorter time frames apply to veterans who situation apply to had the 100% disability since their release from active duty service and to former prisoners of war respectively.  In other words, the time frame that must be established is shorter for a former prisoner of war and for a veteran who has immediate 100% disability upon leaving active duty.

Establishing that a veteran died because of a service-connected disability

If the veteran died because of a service-connected disability, then eligible survivors can receive DIC benefits.  If the veteran had already established service-connection for the disability, then this can often be straightforward.  For example, the spouse of a veteran who died as a result of service-connected cancer should be eligible to receive DIC benefits.

Sometimes, the cause of death may not be as clear.  It may be necessary to get the correct cause of death listed on a death certificate.  In some situations, it may be necessary to get an autopsy to determine the cause of death.

Even if the veteran’s disability was not “service connected” prior to the veteran’s death, a surviving spouse can still file for and receive DIC benefits.  In some situations, the veteran may die from a potentially service-connected condition while the claim for service connection is still pending.  If this happens, the eligible survivor will want to consider substituting for the veteran in the pending claim.  In other situations, a claim for service-connection may not have even been filed yet.  The survivor eligible for DIC benefits can still prove the service-connection of the veteran’s cause of death in the DIC claim.

Sometimes, the survivor applying for DIC benefits can take advantage of certain presumptions that have been put in place by VA.  Unfortunately, many Vietnam veterans develop heart problems, cancer, diabetes, or other problems that were caused by their exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam.  If a veteran dies from one of these conditions and it was caused by his exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam, then his surviving spouse should receive DIC benefits.  With the VA’s Agent Orange rules, a surviving spouse will often benefit from the presumption that the veteran was exposed to Agent Orange and that the medical condition was caused by the exposure to Agent Orange.

Which survivors are eligible for DIC benefits?

Generally speaking, a surviving spouse who was married to the veteran at least a year before the veteran’s death can apply for dependency and indemnity compensation benefits.  In limited situations, a spouse may be eligible even if the marriage was for less than a year.  Sometimes, even a former spouse can be eligible.

Children are eligible for DIC benefits if they are under 18 years of age.  This eligibility can extend to age 23 if they stay in school.  Disabled adult children are also eligible.  Parents of the veteran may be eligible as well.

Dependency and indemnity compensation benefit amounts

The amount of DIC benefits changes year to year.  It also varies depending upon how many dependents are eligible for benefits.  In the case of a surviving spouse, there are a number of factors that can affect the amount of the benefits including:

  • The number of children
  • Whether the spouse requires aid and attendance
  • Whether the spouse is housebound

The dependency and indemnity compensation amounts as of December 1, 2014, can be found here.  If you were married for eight years prior to death and your spouse received or was eligible to receive service-connected total disability benefits for eight years prior to death, you may be eligible for “enhanced DIC”.

How do you apply for DIC benefits?

In 2015, VA changed its rules to require the use of standard forms to apply for benefits.  Anyone eligible for DIC benefits should complete VA Form 21-534EZ to apply for DIC benefits.

Questions about DIC benefits?

Eligibility for DIC benefits can be confusing.  Many people with questions find it helpful to talk to an attorney accredited to handle VA claims.  If you would like to talk to one of our attorneys for free, simply call the phone number on the right side of this page.  If you find it easier, you can also submit the “Need Help” form to type out your question.  We’ll be glad to help.