Sunday, July 10, 2011

What happens if your wounded warrior or veteran passes away

Recently I have heard of several wounded warriors passing away years after their injury. My friend Karie lost her husband unexpectedly years after his injury. The benefits she was or wasn’t entitled to were unclear to her. I am sure most of us weren’t briefed on these kind of details either when medically retiring or entering the VA system. While it is horrible to think about, I felt that I needed to collect more information so we could all be prepared if this happened to us. I contacted our local veterans’ benefits coordinator to get the answers to my questions and I am sharing them with you. While the following provide an overview of what I discovered, please contact your local veteran’s benefits coordinator for details or questions that you may have.

Does disability pay stop immediately? As far as the benefits, yes. The veteran’s check stops and the VA is usually quick to stop the check to prevent overpayments. If there is an overpayment, the VA will recoup that check/direct deposit. They will usually reissue the last month’s check to the widow. If applicable, the spouses need to apply for Death Indemnity Compensation (DIC) as soon as possible.DIC is short for Death Indemnity Compensation. It is payable to the spouse of a service member or veteran who die from a service-connected disability or die on active duty.

How much does the VA pay for funeral costs? Veterans receive $300 per plot and $300 for burial costs if the death is not connected to service. They receive $2,000 if the death is service-connected. If they are buried in a federal or state-run veterans’ cemetery, the spouse does not receive the plot benefit.The VA also has the Non-Service Connected Death Pension benefit. This is a needs-based program that widows must apply for. It depends on their situation and the circumstance surrounding the veteran’s death.

Do they get to keep their insurance? Tricare or Champ VA? Champ VA, yes. As long as they do not remarry. You can't have both Tricare and Champ VA. Widows who have Tricare but are eligible for Champ VA, get Tricare. In most cases, DIC and benefits stop if the spouse remarries.

What happens to the GI Bill if the warrior didn't use it? If the veteran transferred the Post 9/11 to the spouse/children, they can still use it. The benefits had to have been transferred while the veteran was on active duty, drilling Reservist or in the Guard. The benefits cannot be transferred after death. If the Veteran paid the $1,200 into the Montgomery GI Bill (does not apply to Post 9/11) and the Veteran never used it, then the surviving spouse can request the money.

Does the spouse get any other education benefits? If the death is service-connected, the spouse and children are eligible for Chapter 35, Dependents Educational Assistance. If the death is not service-connected there are no additional educational benefits.

If the death isn't service-connected, what benefits do they lose? When a veteran dies, the service-connected disability payments the veteran was receiving stops. The surviving spouse needs to reapply as soon as possible for DIC, if the death was service-connected. This means the veteran’s death was related to the service-connected disabilities. The VA also has the Non-Service Connected Death Pension benefit. This is a needs-based program.

What benefits do widows receive if the death is service-connected? DIC of $1,156 per month, Champ VA medical insurance, unless they receive Tricare, and Chapter 35 Dependents Educational Assistance.

If the spouse elected to receive Survivor Benefits Plan when does that kick in? SBP is a DOD program that retirees can sign up for when they retire. It allows the surviving spouse to continue to receive a portion of the retiree’s retirement pay when the veteran passes away. DFAS works these claims as it is not a VA program. The spouse has to apply for SBP through DFAS. If you call DFAS at 800-321-1080, DFAS will send the proper forms. Due to federal regulations, the spouse cannot normally receive DIC and SBP at the same time. There are exceptions, depending how much each pays. Usually the spouse will receive DIC and get back all monies paid into SBP. It is very confusing.

Does the VA pay for the autopsy? The decision to perform an autopsy depends on the manner and location of death and the availability of the veteran’s surviving spouse or next of kin. For specific details check this website

Does Veterans’ Group Life Insurance pay in the case of suicides? Yes, there is no exclusion for suicides.

For more information on specific details of survivor benefits, check out this website.
Keep in mind some of the numbers on this website are incorrect due to COLA increases.

Another notable resource for military widows is the Gold Star Wives of America. The group has chapters nationwide and is actively involved in lobbying Congress for better benefits for veterans and widows.

This handbook is very useful on all the benefits due for survivors of veterans.


Christina said...

Thanks Cheryl for this information! We definitely need to be aware of what can happen and what we need to do to prepare.

Kim @ Stuff could... said...

This is a needed post. Most do not know about these benefits ending etc

Chris said...

Great summation of the benefits. I will add that (as the widow) the VA was wonderful in getting the benefits started immediately after my husband's death when his pay stopped and I had three kids to take care of.

Peanut Stitches said...

Hi, I found your blog, and I had to comment on this post. I work as a Financial Counselor for Survivor Outreach Services, and I know these answers. If you ever need any help, please do not hesitate to ask! I am so sorry for Bryan's injuries. My husband is deployed right now, for the third time, and I still jump at every phone call and knock on the door. A great friend's husband was injured two months into the deployment, and I see the struggles that they have, and it breaks my heart. Thank you for everything that you both do. This blog is a tremendous resource.