When a veteran dies, his or her immediate family members can receive financial support from the Department of Veterans Affairs through Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). In order to receive monthly VA benefits, surviving spouses and children must submit VA Form 21-534. Here’s everything you need to know about the form.
The Purpose of VA Form 21-534
VA Form 21-534 is the Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Death Pension and Accrued Benefits a Surviving Spouse or Child (Including Death Compensation if Applicable). The form gives the children and spouses of deceased veterans the chance to apply for benefits. This form can also be used to request any funds that a veteran didn’t receive before his or her death.
Qualifying for DIC Benefits
In order for a surviving spouse or child to be eligible for DIC benefits, a veteran must have died from a service-related disability or died while he or she was on active duty or in training. Immediate family members may also qualify for benefits if a veteran didn’t die from service-related injuries but was completely disabled for 10 years before his or her death (or five years if he or she was released from active duty).
Spouses and children must meet certain requirements in order to be eligible for DIC benefits. For example, surviving spouses may qualify if they married an active military service member who died, or married a veteran at least one year before his or her death. The spouse must have lived with the veteran until he or she died (unless they separated and the surviving spouse isn’t to blame for the breakup).
Generally, spouses who remarry won’t qualify for compensation from the VA. But if they’ve already received DIC benefits, they may continue receiving those funds if they remarry after age 57. Children can qualify for DIC benefits as long as they’re not married, they’re not benefiting from a spouse’s VA benefits and they fall below the age of 18. The threshold rises to age 23 for children attending college.
Surviving spouses and children who meet the VA’s criteria can apply for any accrued disability benefits that a veteran was entitled to receive before his or her death. If immediate family members of a deceased veteran who served during wartime can’t qualify for DIC benefits, they may qualify for a death pension benefit. But their income must fall within applicable limits. If they qualify for both DIC benefits and death pension benefits, the VA will offer the benefit that pays the most money.
Completing VA Form 21-534: Sections I – III
VA Form 21-534 is an eight-page document with 12 sections. Completing the form takes approximately one hour and 15 minutes.
In the first section of VA Form 21-534, you must answer questions that indicate whether you’re applying for DIC benefits or disability benefits that the VA owes the deceased veteran. Specifically, you must provide information about any previous claims that you and the veteran filed (and your VA file numbers). You’ll also need to explain how you’re related to the deceased veteran.
This section requires you to provide personal information about the deceased veteran. You’ll need to include the veteran’s name, Social Security number, date of birth and date of death. You must also indicate whether the veteran was a prisoner of war.
Be prepared to provide your own name, address, phone number, email address, Social Security number and date of birth. Section II will also ask whether you’re applying for benefits as a surviving spouse or a child of a deceased veteran.
In Section III, you must provide details about the veteran’s military service. You’ll need to include the date they entered service, their service number, branch number and the date they left active service. If they re-entered service, you’ll need to provide the same information about their second period of active service.
You can add the additional information to Section XII if there were more than two periods of active service. In the case the deceased veteran never filed a claim with the VA, you’ll need to attach the original version of Form DD214 (or a certified copy).
Completing VA Form 21-534: Sections IV – VIII
If you are claiming benefits as a surviving child, you can skip to Section V. To claim benefits as a surviving spouse, you must provide information about your marriages (and the deceased veteran’s marriages). You must indicate how long each marriage lasted and explain how the marriage ended and why you separated (if applicable).
You’ll also state whether you and the veteran had any children.
You’ll only need to complete Section V if you’re claiming benefits for any qualifying children. Otherwise, you can move on to Section VI. In the fifth section of VA Form 21-534, you’ll need to list the name of each child, their date and place of birth, Social Security number and relationship to the deceased veteran (biological, adopted or stepchild).
If any of the children you listed don’t live with you, you’ll need to provide their address, the name of the person they live with and the amount of money you contribute to support them each month.
If you’re housebound, you live in a nursing home or you need help completing day-to-day tasks, you can use Section VI to ask for additional benefits. If you’re in a nursing home, you must provide the facility’s address. You’ll also need to attach a statement signed by an official showing the date you entered the home, the amount of care you require, your out-of-pocket costs, and whether Medicaid covers all or part of the cost.
The death pension is only available to immediate families members with financial need. In Section VII, you must provide your net worth and include the net worth of your dependents.
VA Form 21-534 defines net worth as “the market value of all interest and rights you have in any kind of property less any mortgages or other claims against the property.” Your net worth does not include the value of the house you live in or personal items like your car or your furniture.
Finishing VA Form 21-534
In addition to providing your net worth, you’ll need to provide information about your gross income and the income you expect to receive within the next year.
You’ll need to explain whether you’re receiving Social Security benefits, military retirement benefits and income from other sources.
You can use Section IX to list any expenses you haven’t been reimbursed for, including family medical expenses, educational costs and last illness and burial expenses.
You’ll need to provide direct deposit information in Section X, just in case the VA decides that you’re eligible for benefits. You can attach a voided check or include your bank account information on VA Form 21-534.
In Section XI, you’ll need to sign and date your application. You can use Section XII to provide additional information related to the questions in the other sections. If you need additional space, you can attach a separate sheet of paper.
Submitting VA Form 21-534
While VA Form 21-534 is a long form, it’s fairly easy to complete. Before you submit it, it’s best to review the form and ensure that you’ve filled it out correctly. If a question doesn’t apply to you, it’s OK to write “none” or “not applicable.”
Once you’ve completed VA Form 21-534, you’ll need to mail or fax it to a regional VA Pension Management Center. You can also submit it in person. Just make sure to attach all of the relevant documents. For example, you may need to include a copy of your marriage certificate, your child’s birth certificate and a death certificate (if the veteran didn’t die in active service).
Surviving spouses and children can use VA Form 21-534 to apply for compensation following the death of a veteran. Parents who want to receive VA benefits must submit VA Form 21-535. If you’re eligible for benefits, you could use those funds to make a down payment on a house or pay off debt.
Anyone planning to file VA Form 21-534 should do so within a year of the veteran’s death. If you wait to submit the form, you won’t be able to receive benefits from a date before your application date.
Lastly, before you submit your application, you’ll need to make a copy of it and all of your attachments. That way, you’ll be able to resubmit those documents if something happens to them.
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