I get a question like this a couple times a week from surviving spouses of veterans:
“My son took his life on [December 2013]. He was a Persian Gulf Veteran and served in a Marine combat unit as a Navy Corpsman.
Can Veterans surviving spouses file “a new” claim for potential compensation due to Gulf War Syndrome or other Presumptive Conditions? It appears my husband was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer.
Or what other benefits can the surviving spouse receive?”
— Anonymous Grieving Parent
I kept the questioners name confidential, for what I hope are obvious reasons.
2 Benefits that Might be Available to Surviving Spouses of Veterans.
The benefits below are NOT the only 2 types – there are educational benefits, health-care enrollment, and a host of other benefits that might be available to surviving spouses of veterans under any circumstances
In fact, I am working on writing a Veterans’ Survivors Handbook. It’s not ready for publication yet, but in that Veterans Law Guidebook, I will go into detail about the wide array of benefits available to the surviving spouse a deceased veteran. Learn more about the Veterans Survivors Handbook by clicking here:
But these are the “Big 2” that the VA – and many VSOs – will tell you are not available to you if you are a surviving spouse of a veteran, particularly if the veteran has committed suicide.
The first benefit that my Firm always considers is “Accrued Benefits”.
If the Veteran had a claim pending at the time of his/her suicide, then the surviving spouses of veterans may be able to substitute into the veteran’s pending claim and recover monies that should have been paid for benefits to the Veteran while the veteran was living.
There are deadlines in this kind of case – the surviving spouses of veterans must either substitute into the veteran’s open and pending claim OR file an accrued benefits claim within one (1) year of the Veterans death. If your surviving spouse passed away before substitution was available (October 10, 2008), the only option you have is to file an accrued benefits claim on VA Form 21-534 within one (1) year of the veteran’s death.
Read more about Accrued Benefits claims here.
The plight of surviving spouses of veterans is one that is near and dear to my heart.
My grandmother was the surviving spouse of a World War II Veteran. My grandfather fought at the Battle of the Bulge, and he died after returning home from combat from a condition that most of us today would recognize as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Please, please, please – if you count yourself among the millions of surviving spouses of veterans, do not try to “go it alone” in your appeals of denied survivor benefit claims. (This counts double if your spouse was among the 2 dozen veterans who commit suicide every day).
Find an attorney – I don’t care if it is my firm or another accredited VA attorney.
Get professional help.
You think the VA screws Veterans?
What they do to surviving spouses of veterans makes the regular Claims Backlog look like a well-oiled machine. Watch the story of this courageous spouse made the Nightly News in Dallas November 2013.
VA DIC Benefits (Dependency and Indemnity Compensation).
This benefit – often referred to as “service-connection of the cause of death” – provides a monthly payment to the surviving spouses of veterans if the veteran’s service-connected condition (or conditions that SHOULD have been service connected while the Veteran was living) were a contributing factor to the veteran’s death.
That contributing factor does not need to be the SOLE cause of death, or even the primary cause of death. It just needs to contribute. And, if that condition affects a “vital organ,” like a heart or lung or the brain, the VA must meet a heightened standard in making the determination as to whether a veterans surviving spouse is entitled to DIC. See, 38 C.F.R. §3.312(c)(3).
Surviving Spouses of Veterans that commit suicide HAVE to know this fact: the VA will fight “tooth-and-nail” to deny that a Veteran’s service connected conditions (or ones that SHOULD have been) were contributing factors to a Veteran’s suicide.
Why not? Because someone would have a LOT of explaining to do.
If you want to get an attorney to professionally advocate on a claim for survivors benefits due to a Veteran’s Suicide, please take a look at my eBook: “8 Things a Veteran Should Know Before Hiring an Attorney”.
Here’s what one Veteran said about the Guidebook:
– Denis M. (Vietnam)