Military Law

Military Benefits for Surviving Family Members

The death of a service member can have a great effect on his family. Spouses, children and parents may need financial support. Fortunately, the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provide certain benefits to help during this challenging time. If you're a surviving member of a deceased service member, you may be eligible for some of these benefits.

Lump Sum Death Gratuity

If your family member died while on active duty, you may be entitled to a lump sum payment from the DOD. The service member can choose one or more people to receive and share this payment. His living survivors receive any portion not designated. This usually includes close family members, such as his spouse, children and parents.

Earned Pay and Allowances

The DOD will pay the beneficiaries of the service member any earned pay or allowances at the time of death. If he failed to chose any beneficiaries, the money will be paid to survivors in this order:

  • Spouse
  • Children in equal shares
  • Parents
  • Legal representative of the estate

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)

DIC is a monthly benefit that's available to the survivors of a service member. The member must have died while on active duty or from service-related disabilities. The benefit is provided by the VA. Since the program is based on need, the VA determines whether you're entitled to the benefit. In order for a spouse to be eligible, one of the following must be true:

  • Married before Jan. 1, 1957
  • Married to a service member who died on active duty
  • Married within 15 years after the veteran was discharged from the military service that caused the disability that led to his death
  • Had a child with him, cohabited with him and isn't remarried

In order for a surviving child to be eligible, both of the following must be true:

  • The child is unmarried
  • The child is under the age of 18, or between the ages of 18 and 23 and attending school

The surviving parents may also be eligible. This includes biological, adoptive and foster parents. The VA determines whether the income of the parents is low enough to be eligible for the DIC program.

VA Death Pension

The VA death pension is another benefit for the survivors of a deceased service member. The pension is also based on need. In order to receive this benefit, all of the following must be true:

  • You're the unmarried surviving spouse or unmarried child of the veteran
  • The veteran served at least a set amount of active duty days
  • At least one of those days was served during a period of war
  • The veteran wasn't dishonorably discharged
  • Your income is below the limit set by law

Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)

If you're a surviving spouse or child of a service member who died after retirement, you may be entitled to payments under the SBP. The service member must have enrolled in the program with the DOD at the time of retirement. He's automatically enrolled if he's married. The amount is based on a percentage of the service member's retirement pay. However, the amount is reduced by any payment you receive under the DIC.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What are the benefits of having an attorney help me receive any military benefits?
  • Will it affect military benefits if my spouse was dishonorably discharged before his death?
  • How can I receive compensation after my son passed away from an injury he received while serving in the military? Does my income level matter?
  • What's the effect on survivor benefits if a service member was divorced? What if there were children from more than one marriage?
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