V.A. Death Pension

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What is a V.A. Death Pension?

A V.A. Death Pension is a monthly payment made to very low-income surviving spouses (who have not remarried), or minor or permanently disabled children, of deceased veterans who served in time of war.

Who's eligible for a V.A. Death Pension?

Eligibility for a V.A. Death Pension depends on both the deceased veteran and the survivor(s) meeting certain criteria. The deceased veteran must meet both of the following conditions:

  • The veteran must have been discharged from service under other than dishonorable conditions.

  • The veteran must have served at least 90 days of active military service, at least one day of which was during an official period of war. If the veteran entered active duty after September 7, 1980, he or she must have served at least 24 months, or the full period for which called or ordered to active duty.

The surviving family member must be at least one of the following:

  • The surviving spouse, of any age, who has not remarried

  • The unmarried minor child of the veteran

  • The unmarried child who was permanently disabled before the age of 18 and incapable of self-support

A surviving family member also must have "countable" income that's below an extremely low yearly limit.

What's considered "countable income" for a V.A. Death Pension?

Most types of income received by a deceased veteran's survivor are counted by the V.A. when considering eligibility for a V.A. Death Pension. This includes earnings, profits from a business, Social Security and other retirement and disability payments, and interest and dividends.

However, certain types of income are not counted by the V.A. These are generally amounts paid to the veteran's surviving spouse or child as part of a federal, state, or local public assistance program based on financial need, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), general assistance (welfare), and food stamps. Also, some out-of-pocket medical expenses the survivor incurs after filing a claim may be deducted from countable income, resulting in a higher Death Pension amount (see below).

How does the V.A. calculate the amount of a V.A. Death Pension?

The V.A. sets a yearly Death Pension limit amount, which depends on whether the veteran is single or has a spouse and/or minor dependents. This annual Death Pension limit is currently $7,933 for a single survivor or $10,385 for a survivor with one additional qualifying dependent. If a survivor qualifies for extra benefits because of being housebound, the amounts are $9,696 for a single survivor or $12,144 for a survivor with one dependent. If a survivor qualifies for extra benefits because of requiring the regular aid and attendance of another person, the amounts are $12,681 for a single veteran or $15,128 for a survivor with one dependent. These amounts go up by $2,020 for each additional dependent.

To calculate a qualifying survivor's Death Pension, the V.A. starts with the set limit and deducts the survivor's annual countable income. The amount that's left is the survivor's V.A. Death Pension, paid monthly.

Example: The annual V.A. Death Pension income limit for a single survivor is $7,933. If a survivor (who otherwise qualifies for a V.A. pension) has a yearly countable income of $6,000, that veteran's V.A. pension would be $1,933 ($7,933 - $6,000 = $1,933), paid to the veteran in monthly amounts of $162.

Can out-of-pocket medical expenses add to a V.A. Death Pension amount?

If the survivor of a veteran has out-of-pocket medical expenses (amounts that neither Medicare, Medicaid, nor any other insurance pays) that add up to more than 5 percent of the survivor's annual Death Pension limit, the V.A. will subtract the amount above 5 percent from the survivor's countable income. The result is a higher V.A. Death Pension payment.

Example: For a single survivor, 5 percent of the annual V.A. Death Pension limit is $397 (5 percent of $7,933 = $397). If a survivor has $1,000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses, that amount is more than 5 percent of the Death Pension limit. So the V.A. would deduct $603 from the survivor's countable income, which is the amount over the 5 percent limit ($1,000 - $397 = $603).

How can the survivor of a veteran apply for a V.A. Death Pension?

The survivor of a veteran can begin the application process for a V.A. Death Pension by downloading and completing the V.A.'s online Form 21-534, Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Death Pension and Accrued Benefits by Surviving Spouse or Child.

You must send the completed application and any copies of other requested documents to the V.A. regional office in the region where the survivor lives.

Note: Reapply if survivor later has out-of-pocket medical expenses. If a survivor doesn't qualify for a V.A. Death Pension because of slightly too much countable income, the survivor can reapply at any time if his or her out-of-pocket medical bills (not paid by Medicare, Medicaid, the V.A. health system, or other insurance) are more than 5 percent of the annual V.A. Death Pension limit for that survivor's pension category, and if subtracting the amount of those unpaid medical bills would bring the survivor's countable income below the yearly income limit.

Where can I get help applying for a V.A. Death Pension?

You can get free assistance with any V.A.-related question or problem by phone or in person through one of the V.A.'s Vet Centers, which are located in every state. You can also get assistance by contacting the V.A.'s Veterans Benefits Administration office nearest you. The V.A. also has a toll-free telephone help line at 800-827-1000.

Joseph L. Matthews

Joseph Matthews is an attorney and the author of numerous books, including Social Security, Medicare, and Government Pensions, Long-Term Care: How to Plan and Pay for It; How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim; and The Lawyer Who Blew up His Desk. See full bio

7 months, said...

My ex- is deceased. He was in the Vietnam war. can I apply for death compensation? I am disabled and low income?

over 1 year, said...

We should be able to reply to others that need to know information on this page! Thank you! SurvivorSpouse101

over 1 year, said...

a fellow commenter Write again! If your husband was in the Military during war time and/or if he died due to an illness or mental illness (suicide) that made him disabled through the VA he can be awarded a Service Connected Death, that will give you benefit known as D.I.C. There is a time limit on applying (not sure how long) so make sure to send everything with a postal receipt and keep copies of everything dated! Must start using postal return receipt request requiring a signature!!!!! Call and Call if you get no response but you can fill out applications for Service Connected Death online at VA.gov Please Do Not Wait! Hope you get this!

over 1 year, said...

NETTYLV from 4 years ago and no one helped her???? Please if anyone can get in touch with her go to the Code of Federal Regulations 38 CFR 3.54 If her husband died of a service connected death before 15 years of honorable discharge it does NOT matter the length of her marriage this Code of Regulations overrides this horrific law of a 1 year marriage! It is not fair they apply the length of a marriage at all to any benefits! When a person marries another the very minute they say I DO they assume responsibility for all their debts! How is the Law holds them responsible for debts but does not allow benefits! It is wrong and unjust! Many live together as husband and wife in other type of marriages such a religious practice known as handfasting and this is also a "ceremonial wedding" and should be also accepted as marriage. Under exceptions to the rules a ceremonial wedding is acknowledged but not this one? A Common Law wife is only accepted in some states but not all when its a Federal Benefit? That too makes no sense. If anywhere in the states have a common law on marriage it should be recognized as a marriage no matter what state you live in, if its Federal Benefit. Federal Workers Benefits will not recognize Code of Federal Regulations and those are the Laws they only recognize the Federal Registry that is NOT a Law yet??? Whoever thought of this???? Again this is unjust! The Code of Federal Regulations MUST start being acknowledged and overrides any Federal Registry period! We NEED a Senator to please look into these Federal and Government Laws that purposely remove a surviving spouse from benefits! One says yes the other says no... they need to enforce the Code of Federal Regulations and this Federal Registry is just a bunch of pre-changeable text not laws!!!!

about 2 years, said...

why its so hard to get your husdand pension /he was a world war two vet / purple heart / 4 star..

about 2 years, said...

Need to know what to tell my wife of 64 years if and when I die! I am in assisted living and she is in a retirement home! I am currently 85 and she is currently 84!

about 2 years, said...

Why is the Death Pension so much lower than the Federal Poverty Guideline? The surviving spouse (usually the woman) dedicate so much to the family while the military spouse is serving and should be compensated at the very least better than what they end up receiving, if at all. My father-in-law passed away and now my mother-in-law is thinking of getting a job at 75 yrs old, if not live with just the social security benefit which is close to nothing. I just don't understand!

about 2 years, said...

My husband passed away 8 years ago and I am not aware for applying death pension after he died. Am I still eligible for a death pension even if it is 8 years ago now? I already wrote VA regional office but I did not receive any response.

over 2 years, said...

My grandfather passed away he committed suicide i don't want to post are names but i would like to know if he will be honoured with a military death were my grandmother gets a flag and taps is played please any help will do if it helps he was in Vietnam and I was in Iraq

over 3 years, said...

husband was in the military was an mp guarded prisoners in operation desert storm he passed away a couple of months ago from a terminal brain tumor at the age of 52 have no income comming in he had a wonderful job at ups so didnot need to work i am 40 would i qualify for his pension??

about 5 years, said...

I am 48. My dad serve in the Korea war and died in 1997. He is buried I. The riverside national cemetery. I am collecting some disability money it it ishary enough to live. Is there Any way I would been titled to any money form my dada ringing thewr when he died it was about 2 weeks before he recurve his fidgeting chi which was sad. He was mentally i. He died a d ever vot help cor bis long standing mentL illness elp so he lost everything I life. He lived. Sunland and tujunga I. Hi adult life

about 5 years, said...

very helpfull

over 5 years, said...

Thank you so much for the prayer. If you would, please say a prayer for mother also. Thank you in advance.

over 5 years, said...

The eligibility details and the specifics of the VA death pension limits.

over 5 years, said...


over 5 years, said...

I am a disabled vet and I am alarmed by the number of active duty service members who are committing suicide. I started www.SharedSorrows.com to help people after the loss of a loved one. A good friend even helped me put together a thought of the day for 365 days after a loss. It is called CaringThought and it is free so if you know of someone who needs some encouragement after a loss by suicide, please tell them about us.

almost 6 years, said...

Not understanding why Death Pension linit is so low when Cost of Living is so much higher.

about 6 years, said...

Just want to ask If I can get the VA death pension since my father passed away already, and I'm 22 years of age, I can't support myself now because I don't have work now?

about 6 years, said...

If my husband draws 100% Permanent Service Connected Disability from the VA, If he dies will I draw any of that monies and how much? My income is $800 a month in Social Security Disability for my own medical problems. Thanks

about 7 years, said...

Hi william, Thank you very much for your question. If you'd like, you can post your comment in our Ask & Answer section located here: (http://www.caring.com/ask). Take care -- Emily | Community Manager

about 7 years, said...

My moms ex husband died and she receives a death pension and she wants to know if she can receive food stamps while receiving this pension?

about 7 years, said...

Hi BellsnavyLi, Thanks for your question. If you'd like, you can post your comment in our Ask & Answer section located here: (http://www.caring.com/ask). Take care -- Emily | Community Manager

about 7 years, said...

I would also like to know if I didn't marry but my ex - husband married, can I receive his benifits ? His children are only by me, are adults.