VA Survivors Pension

The VA Survivors Pension program provides tax-free financial support to families of deceased veterans. It is not a universal program, however. Applicant spouses and children must meet a series of criteria to receive benefits.

These include marital status limitations, academic enrollment requirements and household income limits. Moreover, deceased veterans must have served for certain lengths of time or during times of war to qualify their families for program support. Applicants may be eligible for additional veteran’s pension survivor benefits if they have serious or chronic health conditions requiring constant care and assistance.

VA death pension applicants may choose between two permissible application processes. Families with all of the necessary documentation can elect to apply through the expedited fully developed claim process. Families who need assistance locating or collecting claim documentation can use the slower standard claim process (SCP). In all cases, families have final responsibility for documenting the validity of their claims.

Widows Pension VA Veterans Service Eligibility Criteria

VA death pension eligibility is based upon a series of factors. To qualify their families for survivor pension benefits, deceased veterans must have:

  • Served a minimum of 90 days on active duty prior to September 8, 1980.
  • Served 24 months or their full terms of duty beginning September 8, 1980 or later, with at least one day in that term occurring during a time of war.

For the purposes of the veteran’s pension for widows program, qualifying wartime periods consist of the following options:

  • May 9, 1916 – April 5, 1917 (Mexican Border Period)
  • April 6, 1917 – November 11, 1918 (World War I)
  • December 7, 1941 – December 31, 1946 (World War II)
  • June 27, 1950 – January 31, 1955 (Korean Conflict)
  • February 28, 1961 – May 7, 1975 (Vietnam – applies to veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam)
  • August 5, 1964 – May 7, 1975 (Vietnam – applies to veterans who served in any theater.)
  • August 2, 1990 – present. (Gulf War)

Related Article: Veterans Pension Eligibility

Families of veterans who were dishonorably discharged do not qualify for VA death pension benefits under any circumstances.

Widows Pension VA Family Eligibility Criteria

VA survivors pension applicants must meet additional eligibility criteria to receive benefits. Spouses of qualifying deceased veterans may apply regardless of age, so long as they have not remarried. Spouses who remarry permanently forfeit their program eligibility.

Children of qualifying deceased veterans may apply for survivor pensions (or have someone apply on their behalf) if they are:

  • 18 years of age or younger.
  • 22 years of age or younger and actively enrolled in VA recognized education programs.
  • Unable to support themselves due to a permanent disability acquired before they turned 18 years of age.

Widows Pension VA Income Eligibility Criteria

Families applying for veterans pensions for widows and children must also meet annual household income is comprised of all income from all members of the household. It includes, but is not limited to:

  • Income from employment, farming or business ownership income limits.
  • Disability payments.
  • Retirement and pension payments.
  • Interest and dividends on investments.

VA survivors pension applicants’ net worth is determined by assessing their:

  • Bank accounts.
  • Stocks, bonds, mutual funds and other investments.
  • Real property (except for families’ homes of residence).

Veterans pensions for widows are calculated by assessing applicants’ income and net worth. The resulting totals are then compared against congressionally-authorized annual pension limits.

For example, a spouse of a qualified veteran, who has not remarried and has no children, applies for benefits. Her countable income is $5,000. If the applicable income limit set by congress for that year is less than that amount, she does not qualify for benefits. If the limit is larger than her income ($7,000), she will qualify to receive the difference between her income and the limit ($7,000-$5,000 = $2,000). VA death pension benefits are paid out in monthly installments.

Recipients cease to be eligible for benefits if their incomes rise about the limit. However, families may reapply and begin receiving benefits again if their incomes fall.

VA Survivors Pension Net Worth Reductions

VA survivors pension income eligibility calculations may reduce applicants’ net worth by the amount of any out-of-pocket medical expenses they pay during the year. The VA allows these net worth reductions are only when households’ out-of-pocket medical costs exceed five percent of the federally-determined annual limit.

For instance, a family applying for survivor pension benefits pays $4,000 annually in medical bills. Of that amount, health insurance pays $3,000, leaving $1,000 in out-of-pocket expenses. If Congress sets the maximum annual rate at $6,000, then the five percent mark is $300.

When calculating the applicant family’s eligibility, the VA will reduce their total countable income and net worth by their out-of-pocket expenses minus the five percent ($700). Such reductions can improve families’ ability to qualify for veterans pension for widows or increase the amount of money they qualify to receive.

Applying for Veterans Pension Survivor Benefits

Families can begin the VA survivors pension application process by printing and completing VA Form 21P-534EZ (Application for DIC, Death Pension, and/or Accrued Benefits). Applicants can submit completed forms to their regional Pension Management Center (PMC) by mail or in person. Along with the application form, VA widows pension applicants must also provide:

  • Death certificates for the veterans in question, except where they were killed while on Active Duty status.
  • All required documentation to prove income and countable assets (e.g. account statements, pay stubs, etc.).
  • Marriage certificates, birth certificates or adoption records proving the applicants’ legal relationship to the deceased veterans.

VA death pension applicants aged 18 to 23 years must also complete and submit VA Form 21-674 (Request for Approval of School Attendance) to demonstrate compliance with the program’s academic requirements. Applicants seeking veterans pension survivor benefits for permanently disabled children of veterans must include adequate medical records to prove that the intended beneficiary is legally disabled and was so prior to becoming 18 years of age.

Veterans Pension Survivor Benefits Claims Processes

VA death pension applicants may apply for benefits via a fully developed claim (FDC) or through the standard claim process. Both processes receive equal consideration, but FDC applications are processed more quickly than standard claims. Fully developed claims that cannot be completed using the FDC process will be converted to standard claims at no cost to the applicants.

To submit an FDC, VA survivors pension applicants are required to supply the VA with all applicable documentation for the application. They must further authorize the VA to request or access any federally available documentation necessary for the claim that the claimant does not have possess.

Applicants must submit a VA widows pension standard claim if they do not have all of the required documentation and need or desire VA assistance in obtaining it. The VA will make every effort to assist applicants in finding and accessing the necessary documents. However, in the event that the VA is unable to find or obtain documents, final responsibility for obtaining and supplying them with applicants.

Aid and Attendance and Housebound Benefits

Veterans pension survivor benefits applicants may qualify for additional monthly support if they are medically homebound or have a health condition that requires them to have constant assistance from another person. These funds are referred to as “aid and attendance” and “housebound” allowances. Eligible applicants can receive funds for either aid and attendance or household, but not both.

Applicants may request these supplemental VA death pension funds by contacting their local PMCs in person or in writing. All requestees must be prepared to supply medical records, physicians’ statements and other documentation of need to the VA.

Related Article: VA Burial Benefits

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