After a veteran dies, he or she technically no longer has a claim to disability benefits. However, there are certain circumstances in which a widow, widower or surviving child may be entitled to accrued benefits — or money — from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). If you’re not sure whether you’re eligible, it’s worth looking into.
If you’re a surviving spouse or child, here are the circumstances in which you would be eligible to file for benefits:
1. There was a disability claim pending at the time of the veteran’s death. If the VA failed in its duty to assist the veteran in developing the claim, an accrued benefits claim should be filed. For example: The VA failed to send out a letter requesting medical evidence to support the veteran’s claim.
2. A previously denied claim had new medical evidence in the VA claims file before the veteran died. For example, let’s say the VA did not “rate” the veteran’s medical report. The rating is a formal legal document that is used to assess the claim and contains the following: the benefit being claimed, the evidence in support of the claim, the decision (either a grant or denial), and the reasons and bases justifying the decision. You have one year after the date of notice of a grant or denial of the claim to file an appeal – or, a notice of disagreement. In that time, the claim is still considered pending.
3. A claim of clear and unmistakable error (CUE) was pending at the time of the veteran’s death. For example, the veteran may claim the VA made an error in the decision to deny benefits. Specifically, he or she may contend that VA overlooked an important medical report.
4. A veteran’s appeal on a denied disability claim was pending at death. In this case, you may be eligible for those benefits.
5. The claim must be filed within one year after the veteran died. A claim sent to the Social Security Administration for survivor benefits for the widow or veteran’s children is also considered a claim for VA survivor benefits.
A VA disability rating prepared prior to the veteran’s death can be used, but only for accrued purposes. In other words, the rating decision is necessary to establish the veteran’s rate of benefits for the month of death for payment to the surviving spouse.
To apply for accrued benefits, a surviving spouse should file VA Form 21-534 [(Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Death Pension and Accrued Benefits by a Surviving Spouse or Child (Including Death Compensation if Applicable)]. If the only benefit claimed is an accrued amount, VA Form 21-601, Application for Accrued Amounts Due a Deceased Beneficiary, may be used.
Just because a veteran dies, the claim does not necessarily die with them. A veteran’s beneficiary should file a VA Form 21-534 or VA Form 21-601 to make a determination of accrued benefits. It costs you nothing to see if you are entitled to any money.
If you feel the VA denied your claim unfairly, you should file what is called a notice of disagreement. This is the first stage of the appeals process. From here, you can go it alone, or ask a service representative (with the American Legion, the Disabled American Veterans Charity, etc.) to assist you with the paperwork.
More Money-Saving Reads: