Applying for the VA's Survivors Pension

Feb 7, 2017

Applying for the VA's Survivors Pension

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Of the various benefits United States veterans are able to receive in their retirement age, many people wonder about the availability of a Survivors Pension for families of a deceased service member. Sometimes referred to as a Death Pension, this service is essentially a tax-free monetary benefit payable to low-income, un-remarried surviving spouses of a wartime veteran who has passed. Unmarried children of these families may also be eligible to receiving these benefits after the death of their loved one.

To start with understanding what the Survivors Pension entails, it is important to determine the eligibility requirements laid out by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In order to maintain these benefits for spouses and married children, a deceased veteran must have met the following criteria and service requirements:

  • For service on or before September 7, 1980, the Veteran must have served at least 90 days of active military service, with at least one day during a war time period.
  • If he or she entered active duty after September 7, 1980, generally he or she must have served at least 24 months or the full period for which called or ordered active duty with at least one day during a war time period.
  • Was discharged from service under other than dishonorable conditions.

In addition to these distinct requirements, the ability to receive money from a Survivors Pension is based on a family’s yearly income. This amount must be less than the limit set by Congress in order to remain eligible for these benefits. Currently, the limit for a family’s income in order to receive the Survivors Pension can be determined by using the VA’s Pension Benefits Calculator

Surviving, un-remarried spouses are eligible to receive these benefits at any age, however the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs requires children of a deceased wartime veteran to be:

  • Under 18, OR
  • Under age 23 if attending a VA-approved school, OR
  • Permanently incapable of self-support due to a disability before age 18

In relation to these requirements, you will also need to consider what will be considered “countable income” while applying for a VA Survivors Pension. In most cases, sources of income such as your earnings, profits from a business you own, current Social Security assistance, and other interest and dividends will be considered during your application process.

Keep in mind that there are also forms of income which the V.A. does not count toward your eligibility for a Survivors Pension. This generally includes amounts paid to surviving spouses or a child of a deceased veteran as part of a local, state, or federal public assistance program based on financial welfare, such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI), general assistance, and/or food stamps. In addition to these sources of money, any out-of-pocket medical costs and expenses which the applicant has after filing for this pension may be deducted from one’s countable income. Ultimately, this may actually result in a higher amount received through the Survivors Pension.

So How Exactly are Survivors Pensions Calculated?

Every year, the V.A. sets a Survivors Pension limit amount which depends on a veteran’s marital status, as well as their number of dependents. Currently, the Maximum Annual Pension Rate (MAPR) for a veteran without a dependent child is $7,933 and $10,385 with at least one dependent. As it stands, the current standard Medicare Deduction is $96.40. The means by which the amount payable to spouses or dependents is calculated is illustrated by this example from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

After having understood your financial position in remaining eligible for the V.A. Survivors Pension, you can apply by downloading and completing the V.A.’s Form 21-534, Application for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Death Pension and Accrued Benefits by Surviving Spouse or Child.

After downloading and filling out this form, it will need to be mailed to the regional office for Veterans Affairs in which the location that your loved one and their family currently live. Beyond using this form to apply, there are several methods of applying for VA disability benefits depending on the type of benefit you are seeking. 

Although it can be a tough experience to lose a loved one who had served in an active time of war, there are ways families can still seek financial support and other resources through government organizations like the Department of Veterans Affairs. For many people, even a relatively small amount of assistance can go a long way, so explore what other resources may be available in addition to the Survivors Pension.

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