Survivors of Veterans are often eligible for a Veterans Survivor Benefit called Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, or DIC for short.
This is also commonly called “Service-Connection of a Veteran’s Cause of Death” because, generally speaking, it is available to surviving spouses and children of Veterans who pass away, and whose death is connected to service.
As with anything involving the VA and a claim for a Veterans Survivor benefit, the VA (and some VSOs) will “lie” or mis-inform Veterans’ Survivors about the life-changing benefits that they are entitled to.
The VA will often say that there are 2 types of DIC: this is a bit of a misnomer – more correctly said, there are two methods by which that the Surviving Spouse or child of a deceased veteran might use to establish eligibility for DIC.
Here are the 2 ways that you can get the Veterans Survivor Benefit known as DIC.
#1: The Traditional Method for the Veterans Survivor Benefit known as DIC:
Under this method, a survivor must show that the Veteran’s cause of death was a service-connected disability or condition, or a condition that “could have been” service connected. Here are some examples of DIC claims that should be granted:
Servicemember dies on active duty (or is MIA or presumed KIA by the military branch) – the VA should conclude that the death was service-connected and grant survivor DIC to the eligible surviving spouse, child or parent.
The cause of death on the Veteran’s death certificate is a service-connected condition.
The VA should conclude that the surviving spouse, child or parent is eligible for DIC and should grant the benefit.
Moreover – and the VA invariably gets this wrong nearly every time – even if the service-connected condition was only a “contributing factor” in the death of the Veteran, the surviving spouse should receive DIC.
This might (though not always) require a statement from a doctor, coroner or other medical professional explaining how the service-connected condition was a contributing factor to the Veteran’s death.
For example, if the Veteran suffers from lung cancer, but the cause of death is pneumonia, a simple letter from a doctor explaining that the pneumonia was the result of the Veteran’s decreased immunity due to his cancer would likely suffice. Of course, if you can talk to the physician that pronounces the death and have them identify “pneumonia, due to lung cancer” (or some similar phrase) as the main and contributing cause on the death certificate on the death certificate, the process of proving entitlement to the VA for DIC will be considerably easier
The Veteran passes away from a condition that should-have been service-connected.
If the Veteran had, at the time of his or her death, a claim pending, then the Veteran’s spouse (or minor children or dependent parents) are entitled to an opportunity to show that the Veteran would have qualified for service-connection for the particular condition and that the condition was an immediate or underlying cause of death.
To show that the Veteran would have qualified for service-connection for the particular condition, the Veteran’s surviving spouse, minor child or dependent parents will need to produce evidence that:
a) the Veteran had the condition at the time of his death; and,
b) an in-service event that is causally connected to the condition. (This is essentially the same elements of any claim for service-connection).
For in-service deaths involving suicide, a disease occurring in the first 6 months of service, and/or deaths resulting from misconduct, the VA may have to make a separate determination whether the cause of death was service-connected. You will likely want an accredited and experienced Veterans Benefits Attorney in your corner on this type of claim – the VA fights them “tooth-and-nail”.
Method 2: aka, Section 1318 DIC.
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The rules and caselaw explaining the conditions in which Section 1318 DIC might be granted can get really complicated – really quick. In a nutshell, though, this is a method of proving entitlement to DIC that does not require the Veteran to have actually been service-connected for the cause of death.
In some cases, this might be an easier method of proof than the first method (death due to service-connected condition).
In other cases, it might be considered a “liberalizing” rule that allows more surviving spouses, children and dependent parents to secure benefits in the event that the cause of death was not service connected.
Here are some examples of Section 1318 DIC:
Example 1 (The 10 Year Rule):
The surviving spouse, child, or dependent parent of a Veteran who was receiving, or entitled to received, total disability (100%) for ten years prior to the date of death is entitled to DIC under Section 1318, regardless of what the cause of death was.
Example 2 (The 5 Year Rule):
Where the Veteran was or should have been receiving total disability compensation for not less than five years from time of discharge to death, the surviving spouse, minor children or dependent parents are entitled to receive DIC benefits.
Example 3 (POW – One Year Rule):
Due to the rarity of the application of this rule, I am not going to discuss it in any detail in this post. There has only been 1 (correct me if I’m wrong) POW in the current conflicts, and I haven’t run into any POW Survivors that the VA has screwed over from earlier conflicts, so if you are the Survivor of a POW and not receiving DIC from the VA, please get in touch with an Accredited Veterans Benefits Attorney.
Example 4 (The “CUE” Rule):
If the veteran should have received 100% disability for a service connected condition,the Veteran’s surviving spouse, minor children or dependent parents may show entitlement to Section 1318 if, due to “clear and unmistakeable error” (also known as “CUE”) the veteran would have received total disability compensation for the ten (10) years prior to the Veteran’s death.
Example 5 (The “Total & Continuous Disability” Rule):
If the Veteran was rated as totally and continuously disabled for a period of ten years before the Veteran’s death, but did not actually receive the compensation because it was being withheld for indebtedness, or paid by the VA to someone else, or was receiving retirement pay, then the surviving spouse, minor children or dependent parents may be entitled to DIC benefits under Section 1318.
Section 1318 can get tricky, and there a few exceptions and exclusions that I don’t go into in this brief, informational post. If the VA denies your claim for DIC and fails to consider Section 1318, you may have an appealable decision.
Want to Learn MORE about Veterans Survivors Benefits?
I’m writing a book to educate Veterans Survivors about the benefits available to them.
These folks are near and dear to my heart – my grandmother was the surviving spouse of a deceased combat Veteran – the benefits that the VA denied her could have greatly helped her to raise 5 children on her own – and may well have changed the course of her life.
In the Veterans’ Survivors Handbook, I will discuss the full range of benefits available to surviving spouses of deceased Veterans: not just Veterans Survivor Dependency Indemnity Compensation but also the Veterans Survivor Benefit that the VA doesn’t want to tell you about (Accrued Benefits), Dependents Educational Assistance (DEA), and more.
Click on this link, or on the book image above to find out how to get a Pre-Release discount when I publish this Veterans Law Guidebook.