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