I hung up the phone and just shook my head…..it was another day at the office at my law firm, and I had been talking to another surviving spouse of a deceased Vietnam Veteran about VA Accrued Benefits and other survivor benefits.
Her late husband – who served Boots on the Ground in Vietnam – had a pending VA claim for his ischemic heart disease at the time of his death.
There was no question that this Veteran’s surviving spouse was entitled to collect money that the VA owes the Veteran – but did not pay – during his lifetime.
But the VA never adjudicated the accrued benefits claim.
This type of conversation is a weekly – sometimes daily – event at my law firm.
Typically, a Veteran’s spouse or eligible surviving child will file the VA Form 21-534, which is a simultaneous application for several Veterans Administration death benefits: it is an application for DIC, Death Pension, and Accrued Benefits.
The VA often decides – and frequently denies – the surviving spouse’s claim for DIC (dependency and indemnity compensation), which is also known as the “survivor’s annuity” or “service connection of the cause of death”.
DIC pays out a monthly benefit to the surviving spouse when the Veterans cause of death is related to a medical condition that was – or should have been – service connected during the Veteran’s life. Start learning more about DIC here.
But all too often the VA does not tell spouses and eligible surviving children that they are entitled to compensation that the VA should have paid to the Veteran for a pending VA Disability Claim during his or her lifetime, but did not.
What are VA Accrued Benefits Claims?
In a nutshell, a VA Accrued Benefits Claim is about the surviving spouse’s right to collect money that the VA owes the Veteran but did not pay during his (or her) lifetime.
Generally speaking, if a Veteran has a VA disability compensation claim pending at the time of his or her death, the Veteran’s spouse or surviving child is entitled to any “accrued benefits” from that claim.
In other words, even though a Veteran’s claim technically dies with the Veteran, in some situations, the surviving spouse and/or eligible surviving child may be able to substitute in and take up the claim in their own right.
If you look at the list of VA Benefits that the VA says are available to the spouses and surviving children of service-connected veterans, you will see a good long list of possible benefits that the VA has available.
However, there is one missing from the list – “accrued benefits”.
The VA defines “accrued benefits” in the instructions toVA Form 21-534 as a claim for any money the VA owes the veteran but did not pay prior to his/her death.
How does a Veterans surviving spouse protect against this common denial of veterans benefits for spouses?
Veteran Surviving Spouses should know the Elements of a VA Accrued Benefits Claim.
To protect against the VA overlooking this important VA benefit for surviving spouses, the Veteran’s survivor should get familiar with the elements of a VA Accrued Benefits claim.
Here are the three (3) basic elements of an accrued benefits claim:
1) A claim must be filed within 1 year after the Veteran’s death. A claim for any benefit using VA Form 21-534 is considered a claim for “accrued benefits”. Also, a claim for Social Security survivor benefits is considered a claim for Survivor Benefits through the VA, even if you only sent the application to the Social Security Administration.
2) The Veteran must have a “pending claim”. The definition of “pending claim” can be very broad or narrow, depending on the unique fact situation that you are in, and it is best that you contact an attorney familiar with “accrued benefits” claims from the VA to determine if your spouse had a “pending claim” at the time of his/her death.
3) Based on the evidence in the record at the time of the Veteran’s death, the Veteran was entitled to monthly disability compensation for a service-connected illness or condition or disease. If the Veteran would have provided that evidence to prevail in his or claim but for a failure in the VA’s Duty to Assist, then it is possible that an “accrued benefits” claim can be reopened for submission of additional evidence.
(Note – In certain circumstances, the spouse, the children, and financially-dependent parents of a veteran who died on or after October 10, 2008, may be able to substitute into the Veterans claim and if so, are not limited to the evidence in the Veterans Claims File at the time of the Veteran’s death.)
What does the Surviving Spouse do if their VA Accrued Benefits Claim is Denied – or Ignored?
In 2 words: Act Quick.
First, get a copy of the Veteran’s C-File so that you know what claims were pending at the time of the Veteran’s death, and what evidence the VA had in the record regarding that claim.
Second, file a Notice of Disagreement with the VA Ratings decision that did not decide, or that denied, the surviving spouse’s entitlement to VA Accrued Benefits.
VA Accrued Benefits claims can be tough, for a couple reasons:
1) The VA does not like to pay out these benefits, as they can often be very significant. I have helped Surviving Spouses recover accrued benefits and DIC benefits that are often tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
2) The timelines to file for – and appeal denials of – VA Accrued Benefits claims are short. While 1 year may not seem like a short period of time, if you are a surviving spouse trying to re-arrange your life after the loss of a loved one, that year to apply can pass very quickly.
3) Accrued Benefits Claims are inextricably intertwined with DIC Claims. For example, I see many cases where the VA denied DIC because they failed to adjudicate the Accrued Benefits claim.
Here’s a common scenario:
The Veteran has chronic service-connected sleep apnea, but his cause of death was Alzheimers disease. The VA will typically deny the surviving spouses DIC claim, on the grounds that Alzheimer’s was not service connected during the Veteran’s lifetime.
BUT – since modern medicine shows us that chronic sleep apnea can cause significant brain damage – a Veteran’s pending and undecided claim for service connection of sleep apnea may also be an inferred claim for secondary service connection of Alzheimer’s disease.
If the VA doesn’t adjudicate the accrued benefits claim for service connection of the Veteran’s sleep apnea, and the conditions caused by service-connected sleep apnea, they will also likely deny the Surviving Spouse’s claim for DIC benefits.
Where can a Surviving Spouse Get Help with a VA Accrued Benefits Claim?
I believe that many Veterans surviving spouses can handle – and win – their own VA Accrued Benefits claims. They just need More Information and More Power to understand how to prove up their VA claims and appeals.
In fact, I am working on a Veterans Law Guidebook for Veterans Survivors to get more information and more power to surviving spouses looking to maximize their Veterans Administration Death Benefits.
However, no blog post or ebook can substitute for legal advice from an accredited VA attorney – there are hundreds of attorneys that can help with this kind of claim.
Start by using my Free ebook to help you choose the VA disability attorney that is best for your VA accrued benefits claim or appeal.
And whatever you do – do not give up.
Read this story about a Vietnam Veterans Survivor who fought for years to recover the benefits she was entitled to.
Most VA Accrued Benefits claims will not take as long as this Survivor’s appeal did – but it is important to never “give up” and “throw in the towel”.
Sponsored VA Accrued Benefits Law Firm Listing (Click image to view):
My aunt has been contacted via text by someone who says they are with the VA and my grandfather had over $70,000 in benefits (I assume accrued benefits) still owing. She needs to provide her bc to receive the money. Does this sound legit? He fell off a roof in Guam and broke his back, and suffered seizures throughout his lifetime. He was diagnosed with dementia around 15 years ago.
If she receives the money, how will it affect her social security? She is not permitted to make over $14K per year in income. Is this considered income? Is it taxable on her IRS form?
Dawn, This sounds suspect – the VA never calls to offer MORE benefits, and attorneys are ethically prohibited from making calls like this.
It sounds, to me, very much like Pension Poaching. Read this post – and be very careful.
Some elderly Veterans are eligible, and the benefit is very real and helpful, but there are companies that have figured out ways to sucker vets into parting with 10s of thousands of dollars to get the benefit, WITHOUT providing a comprehensive Elder Care Plan.
I approached the Office of General Counsel about this last year – offered to help pay for outreach videos and PSAs to stop this activity.
Their response? “Meh…Veterans will figure it out on their own”.
My Dad passed away over 10 years ago, but we recently found out that he was exposed to/sprayed with Agent Orange in Florida near Eglin Air Force Base in the early to mid ’60s. I was born with a rare vascular defect that baffled military and private doctors for years. It has been a real uphill battle for me with this birth defect. I never would have thought that my Dad had been exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War or that it would have caused my birth defect, but I am not sure now. No one in my family has ANYTHING remotely like this. Does anyone know on this forum if this could be the case? Are there any accrued benefits in my particular case? My Dad was in the Army for 21 years, had a heart attack at 30 that the military did not discover until he was 40. They were able to go back to his flight physicals and see where the heart damage occurred, more than likely while he was fighting in Vietnam. Any words of advice?
A lot of folks don’t know that there were several sites in the US where Agent Orange was tested – Florida, Maryland and a couple others come to mind.
Any Veteran exposed to Agent Orange – either Boots on the Ground in the RVN, or during the Elgin AFB Tests in the late 1960s – should have basic eligibility for disability compensation.
Whether there are accrued benefits in your dad’s case, or whether a birth defect like the one you describe can be service-connected, are questions you’re going to want to ask an attorney to look into, since we don’t give legal advice on the blog.
Feel free to use our contact form, or if you want to interview other attorneys, be sure to download our free eBOOK to find out what to ask those attorneys: 8 Things that you Should Know before Hiring an Attorney in your VA Claim.
My name is Martha Maddox and my husband Jerry Mackey Jr. died on 6/12/13. I have been waiting compensation and haven getting the run arounds. Is there anything that can be done about this situation. I have been told that there are accrued benefits sitting there waiting on me also. I really need this money because I am homeless and have no car to gwet to my part time job
We don’t give legal advice on the Veterans Law Blog – please use the “Request a Consultation” form on the side of every page on this website to submit your information to us if you’d like us to talk about your VA claim with you.
Thanks for posting! I think the VA believes that every Vet is a malingerer. 🙂
I don’t give legal advice on the blog; the blog is just a forum for an exchange of information about the VA procedures, changes in the VA, how the rules and regulations work, etc.
If you want legal advice, I strongly recommend contacting an attorney.
1993 96 denied ptsd tbi acholic tobacco hearing loss decision had no med records no 211114 no military intell appeal 96 decision they said they lose it just found out it was sent to west vir instead of louisvill were the other denial were made. said I was malingering stupid iq less 70. 2008 they found my stressor 2011 they found my tbi all of which was destroyed by dr hall in 93 and 96 have proof of decision made in 96 may 5 med records were rec on may3 once again did not look at. what they found was stressor tbi documented I was a member of the most intell group in army they destrhoyed my records and until 2005 when judge varo gave me my ssi dis was never looked at again until 2011 awaiting bva docket 0141a1 can prove all abv. American leg rep me very poor jobpresently 70 ptsd 40 tbi 30 headackes 30 parkingson 10 tnn drawing 90 % awaiting tdiu filed feb 2011 would like to burn ther ass up on malpractice and tot claim. last yr dept comm vets aff called asked what I would take no reply vets aff waskington called it dis error ask to be expedited under 38 cfr 20.900 they said no whats your advice lot of money here