Memorial Day is dedicated to honoring all the men and women who have died in the United States military service. Their place is fixed in history.
Yes, but what about their spouses? They, too, have served and sacrificed for the country. For that, the government has set up a broad array of government benefits for which a surviving spouse may be eligible.
What follows are the more common benefits with a brief description.
Dependency and indemnity compensation, known as DIC, is a monthly benefit paid to the surviving spouse. For 2022, the basic rate for a surviving spouse if the veteran died on or after Jan. 1, 1993, is $1,437.66. The surviving spouse may be eligible for added amounts based on specific factors.
Accrued benefits are a back payment for any claim that was pending and unresolved, or resolved and unpaid, at the time of the veteran’s death. The surviving spouse may be entitled to collect accrued benefits.
Survivors (death) pension with aid and attendance is a monthly benefit paid to a surviving spouse with a low annual income. The amount paid is based upon a sliding scale. A claim for a survivor’s pension always includes a claim for DIC and any claim for accrued benefits.
The aid and attendance benefit pays a monthly sum to a surviving spouse who is unable to perform the activities of daily living (such as bathing, dressing, walking or using the toilet) without assistance.
TRICARE, formerly known as CHAMPUS, is a health care program that may cover the surviving spouse. Participants have a network of health care providers, which include both military medical facilities and contracted civilian providers. There are two programs: TRICARE Prime, which is based on an HMO model; and TRICARE Select, based on a PPO model.
CHAMPVA is an alternative health insurance program. It is not available to surviving spouses who are eligible for TRICARE.
A VA-guaranteed loan is used to buy, build, repair or improve a home or refinance an existing loan.
The Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Assistance Program helps pay for school or job training. A surviving spouse who is eligible for this program may also be eligible for free educational and career counseling.
Beneficiary Financial Counseling Service provides free, professional financial advice to surviving spouses who were beneficiaries under certain military life insurance programs. The program includes up to 40 hours of personal counseling for two years after the claim was paid.
Burial benefits in a VA national cemetery, grief counseling and transition support may be available for surviving spouses.
Now for some general tips.
The military loves its acronyms. When you are researching benefits, keep a cheat sheet handy with definitions so you won’t be overwhelmed.
Eligibility for each type of benefit depends upon facts regarding the deceased service member and you, the surviving spouse. For example, some benefits are available only if the deceased service member served during wartime, while others are not available to a surviving spouse who has remarried or has too much income. Start your search at www.va.gov to get a view of requirements.
Print off the application and start gathering your documents and information as soon as possible. You may need a DD-214, determination letter for previously awarded benefits to the service member, medical records, marriage certificate, previously filed tax returns or W-2.
Be persistent. You and your spouse were there for the government when it needed you. It is time for the government to be there for you.
Virginia Hammerle is president of Hammerle Finley Law Firm and board-certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in civil trial law. To receive her newsletter, visit hammerle.com. This column does not constitute legal advice.