Who is considered a veteran?

A veteran is anyone who served full-time in the active military, naval or air services, including the Coast Guard – and who was discharged or released from the service in all conditions other than dishonorable.

What benefits are available to disabled veterans?

Veterans have a wide range of benefits available to them. They range from VA pension benefits (non-service connected) and VA compensation benefits – to vocational rehabilitation and grants for adapted vehicles, housing and equipment. If you are a disabled veteran, you’re invited to call my toll free Disability Information Answer Line at 1-888-878-9350 and I can outline the benefits that may be available to you.

What are the VA’s non-service connected pension benefits?

Veterans who served during wartime and have a low income and few assets may qualify for non-service connected pension benefits. The veteran’s disability does not have to be related to his military service.

Are members of the National Guard entitled to VA benefits?

Members of the National Guard activated for federal service during a period of war or domestic emergency may be eligible for certain VA benefits, such as VA health care or compensation for injuries or conditions connected to that service. Activation for other than federal service does not qualify guardsmen for all VA benefits. Claims for VA benefits based on federal service filed by guardsmen should include a copy of the military orders, presidential proclamation or executive order that clearly demonstrates the federal nature of the service.

Does the VA grant allowances for dependents?

Veterans whose service-connected disabilities are rated at 30 percent or more are entitled to additional allowances for dependents. The additional amount is determined according to the number of dependents and the degree of disability.

What benefits are available for a veteran who needs help or is housebound?

A veteran who is determined by VA to be in need of the regular aid and attendance of another person, or a veteran who is permanently housebound, may be entitled to additional disability compensation or pension benefits. A disabled veteran evaluated 30 percent or more also is entitled to receive a special allowance for a spouse who is in need of the aid and attendance of another person.

How much are the monthly VA compensation benefits?

The benefits for disabled veterans range from $123 per month to $2,673 per month, depending on your disability. (These amounts may have changed since this guide was printed.)

How does a veteran or dependent apply for VA benefits?

The form is called VA Form 21-526, Veterans Application for Compensation or Pension. You can get an application form online at the VA website www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/. Or you can call the VA Regional Office at 1-800-827-1000.

If you’d like help applying for benefits (and the process is difficult!), I’ll be happy to help you. Just call me toll free at 1-888-878-9350.

As a veteran, do I have to testify in support of my claim?

No, you cannot be required to testify; however, you have the right to request a hearing before the Regional Office or the Board, if you desire. No testimony is permitted before the Court.

As a veteran, can I receive disability benefits and continue to work?

Yes. You can work regardless of the VA’s assigned disability level, even if you are rated as 100% disabled. However, if you receive VA benefits due to individual unemployability or if you receive a VA pension, you cannot work.

May I receive Social Security Disability and VA disability compensation benefits at the same time?

Yes, you can receive both Social Security Disability and VA disability compensation benefits simultaneously. If you receive a VA disability pension, the VA usually will reduce your pension amount by the amount of your Social Security Disability benefits because the VA pension is based upon need.

Are benefits continued if a beneficiary is incarcerated?

VA benefits are affected if a beneficiary is convicted of a felony and imprisoned for more than 60 days.

Disability or Death Pension paid to an incarcerated beneficiary must be discontinued. Disability compensation paid to an incarcerated veteran rated 20 percent or more disabled is limited to the 10 percent rate. For a surviving spouse, child or dependent parent receiving Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, or a veteran whose disability rating is 10 percent, the payment is reduced to half of the rate payable to a veteran evaluated as 10 percent disabled.

Any amounts not paid may be apportioned to eligible dependents. Payments are not reduced for participants in work-release programs, residing in halfway houses or under community control.

Failure to notify VA of a veteran’s incarceration can result in overpayment of benefits and the subsequent loss of all VA financial benefits until the overpayment is repaid. Persons convicted of a federal or state capital crime cannot receive VA burial benefits.

Is disability compensation affected if the veteran is a fugitive?

VA disability compensation and pension benefits may not be paid to any veteran named on an outstanding felony warrant, or their dependents, until the veteran has surrendered to authorities or the warrant is cleared.

How long will it take VA to consider my claim?

The VA claims processing and appeal systems are overwhelmed with applications. You will face long delays at every level of the claims and appeals process. Unfortunately, the current backlog and high rate of errors continue to plague VA with no relief in sight. According to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals fiscal year report in 2006, it took an average of 489 days from the time a veteran filed his Form 9 (substantive appeal) for the regional office to forward the case to the Board. By fiscal year 2010 the average waiting period increased to 609 days. In the Board’s annual report for fiscal year 2010, it took an average of 212 days from when the Board receives a claim to when it issues a decision. And if the case is remanded (sent back) to the regional office, it took an average of another 493 days.

If my claim for VA benefits is denied, should I appeal?

In most cases, the answer is “yes”. While the law says the VA is supposed to give the veteran the benefit of the doubt and help the veteran with his claim, the fact is many claims are improperly denied. In recent years the Board of Veterans’ Appeals has remanded or sent back nearly 50 percent of the Regional Office decisions. For instance, in 2001 the Board sent back 48.8 percent of claims. In 2010, it sent back 42.4 percent of claims.

If you hope to win your appeal, you must make sure you meet the VA’s appeal deadlines.

In addition, you should carefully review the rating decisions and Statement of the Case to determine the reasons for the VA’s denial. These VA documents should explain why your claim was denied, which helps you understand what is necessary for your claim to succeed. In your initial appeal, make sure you provide any evidence that you did not provide with your initial claim because the appeal will reach a point at the Board level when you may not submit any additional evidence.

The claims and appeal process is so difficult that many veterans become discouraged and simply give up on their claims. On some occasions, veterans choose to reopen their claims many years later and discover they have lost years of unpaid benefits.

What constitutes Clear and Unmistakable Error?

The CAVC defines CUE in the following manner:

[I]n order to establish CUE, the appellant must show that (1) either the facts known at the time of the decision being attacked on the basis for CUE were ot before the adjudicator or the law then in effect was incorrectly applied; (2) an eror occurred based on the record and the law that existed at the time; and (3) had the error not been made, the outcome would have been “manifestly different.”

Are there times when a Final RO Decision cannot be challenged?

Yes. Before filing a CUE claim, check to see whether a previous final RO decision is eligible to be attacked based upon CUE. Some final RO decisions cannot be challenged at the RO level because they have been “subsumed” by a later BVA decision. Again, an attorney can be especially helpful with the necessary investigation and analysis concerning whether the decision can be challenged and where that challenge must be filed.

May I hire a lawyer to help me with my claim?

Yes. In 2007, after roughly 140 years of not allowing veterans to hire paid lawyers, Congress passed the Veterans Benefits, Health Care, and Information Technology Act of 2006. This law allows veterans to retain a lawyer for VA proceedings when the VA denies the claim and the veteran files a disagreement with the VA’s decision. After the notice of disagreement, you can hire a lawyer to represent you through the frustrating, difficult process of appealing your claim. For more information about hiring a lawyer, please see our “Veterans Guide to Hiring a Disability Lawyer.”

How does a lawyer get paid? Why do they all say it won’t cost me anything to hire them?

Not everyone can afford a lawyer. But it is important to have one. That’s why Congress passed the federal law called the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). This law allows the government to pay your lawyer’s fees and expenses. What’s more, the money the government pays to your lawyer does not reduce or affect any money that you receive from the VA. This money is not part of your VA benefits. Best of all, the lawyer will not get paid unless he wins a remand or reversal at the court level. If the lawyer does not get a remand or reversal he will not get paid. This gives your lawyer a strong incentive to win a remand or reversal – because your lawyer gets paid only if he wins.

IMPORTANT NOTE: A remand means you get to reopen your case at the VA level and get another chance to win the case – with new evidence, and new doctors’ reports. It does not mean you have won your case. Instead, it means that you have won the right to present your case again. In a case like this, your lawyer may get his legal fees paid under the Equal Access to Justice Act before you win benefits from the VA.

What happens after I get a remand? Will I get more free help from my lawyer?

Yes and no. Your lawyer may or may not be able to help you beyond getting a remand. Once you get a remand, your case goes back to the VA level. At this point, you want to add new evidence and plug holes in the case so that the Board will not deny your claim again. Since this is not at the Court level, your lawyer will not get paid under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA).

However, some lawyers will work with you at this level. They will help you get stronger medical evidence and present a stronger case. They will show you how to talk to the VA… in the best way possible, so you get your disability claim approved. Lawyers who do this usually ask for part of your back pay, usually 20% to 30%. For example, let’s say you were disabled several years ago, and you’ve been fighting this claim for many years. Let’s say the VA owes you $15,000 in back pay. If your lawyer helps you get your claim approved, he could ask for a fee of $3,000 (20%) or perhaps $4,500 (30%).

What’s the first step?

Call me toll free at 1-888-878-9350 because you no longer have to “go it alone.”

I represent veterans before the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and in Federal Court for Service Connected Disability and Rating Increases.

As a result, I have an in-depth legal background with a wide range of experience. This includes extensive experience in building and developing evidence in complex cases. I will gladly review your case and give you an honest evaluation of whether I think it’s a winner or loser. Then I’ll suggest how we should proceed. If I think I can win your case, then I’ll offer to represent you before the VA or the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

The sooner you call me, the sooner I may be able to help you. So please don’t wait one moment longer. Call me today. Call me toll free at 1-888-878-9350 for a free, honest evaluation of your claim, at no cost or obligation.

Who Gets VA Benefits When a Veteran Dies?

Losing a loved one can be both emotionally difficult and financially overwhelming – especially when a spouse, children, or other dependents rely on a veteran’s VA benefits to get by.

What happens to VA benefits after a veteran’s death? Do VA benefits go to family members when a veteran passes?

While veteran’s disability payments stop after the veteran’s death, the surviving spouse and others may be eligible to collect other types of ongoing VA benefits, including Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), VA Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA) health care coverage, survivors’ pension, and burial benefits.

What Are VA DIC Benefits?

When a veteran passes away, any monthly payments they received for a service-connected disability will cease. Surviving family members seeking financial assistance can then apply for DIC benefits.

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is a tax-free, monthly VA payment available for surviving spouses, children, and parents of deceased service members or military veterans.

Surviving spouses receive monthly payments for life, unless they remarry before age 57. Surviving children can collect DIC benefits until age 18 – age 23 if attending school – or indefinitely if the child has qualifying special needs.

Currently, VA DIC benefits are paid at $1,357.56 per month for spouses, $340.69 per month for each child – more in certain cases, such as if you are disabled and require daily care assistance.

Who Is Eligible for VA DIC Benefits?

VA DIC benefits are available for surviving family of service members who die on active duty or die from a service-connected disability. Surviving family may include the spouse, children, or parents.

To be considered a “surviving spouse” for DIC benefits, you must meet several criteria, including:

  • Married to the veteran for at least one year.
  • Married within 15 years of the veteran’s discharge from the service their disability is connected to.
  • Unmarried with a shared child AND living with the veteran at the time of their death.

A surviving spouse who prompted a separation during the marriage may not be eligible for DIC benefits. Similarly, spouses who remarry may not be eligible for DIC benefits – unless remarrying after age 57, remarrying after December 16, 2003, or the remarriage has ended due to annulment, divorce, or death.

Can same-sex spouses get VA DIC benefits? Yes. VA is not allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. In September 2013, same-sex couples in the military were granted the same beneficiary rights as heterosexual couples.

For a child to collect DIC benefits, they must be a dependent of the veteran, and meet ONE of the following criteria:

  • Under age 18
  • Between ages 18-23 and enrolled in a qualifying school
  • Unmarried with special needs

The main criteria for receiving DIC benefits is being able to prove that the cause of death was service-related. If the veteran had a presumptive condition or was service connected for their illness, this may not be necessary.

If the veteran’s cause of death is not service connected, survivors can still collect DIC benefits. In some cases, the applicant may need to provide evidence that the cause of death was service-related – the most powerful being a good medical nexus letter.

Also, if the veteran had total disability due to individual unemployability (TDIU) or was rated at 100% disability (or combined rating of 100%) at the time of death, survivors may be eligible for DIC benefits.

What is VA Survivors’ Pension?

VA survivor’s pension is similar to DIC, a tax-free monthly benefit. The difference between survivors’ pension and DIC is that eligibility is based on wartime service and income, not the veteran’s status or service-connection.

VA offers survivors’ pension benefits to low-income, single surviving spouses of veterans with an honorable or other-than-honorable (OTH) discharge who:

  • Served at least 90 days active duty on or before September 7, 1980, with at least one day during wartime, OR
  • Served 24 months (or the total duty time) after September 7, 1980, with at least one day during wartime.

Surviving children may also be eligible for survivors’ pension under the same criteria used for DIC benefits.

Does The Surviving Spouse Get Health Care Benefits After Veteran’s Death?

A deceased veteran’s spouse and children may qualify for health care benefits through the CHAMPVA program as long as they don’t receive TRICARE benefits.

Who is Eligible for CHAMPVA Benefits?

To qualify for health care under CHAMPVA, you must meet at least one of the following criteria:

  • Surviving spouse or child of veteran who died from service-connected disability.
  • Surviving spouse or child of veteran with permanent or total disability rating for service-connected disability at the time of death.
  • Surviving spouse or child of service member who died in active duty.

Does VA Pay for Veteran Burial and Funeral Expenses?

The Department of Veterans Affairs offers a flat rate monetary benefit to cover eligible burial and funeral costs. VA may also agree to cover additional expenses, including plot, interment, and transportation costs.

Veterans eligible for VA burial benefits include veterans with honorable or other-than-honorable (OTH) discharge who:

  • Died due to a service-connected disability or were receiving VA benefits at the time of death.
  • Died during VA hospitalization or under VA care at a non-VA facility.
  • Died during transit to or from a VA health exam, treatment, or healthcare appointment.
  • Received VA benefits at time of death or qualified for VA benefits but instead received full disability or military retirement.
  • Died while receiving care at a VA-approved nursing home (after Oct. 9, 1996).
  • Had a VA claim pending at the time of death and would have been eligible for VA benefits prior to the date of death.

Surviving spouses typically receive the VA burial benefits payment automatically once the VA learns of the veteran’s death – no need to file a claim. If there is no surviving spouse, a surviving child or parent can file a claim for VA burial benefits.

Surviving family members should apply for DIC and other VA benefits as soon as possible after a veteran’s death, as the effective date for payments starts on the date of the claim if you wait a year or longer to apply (otherwise it starts one month after you receive approval).

If you have questions about your DIC claim or are having difficulty collecting DIC benefits after a veteran’s death, we are available to help. Contact Gang & Associates toll-free at 888.878.9350 or Contact Us online. Initial consultations are free and confidential.