Survivor Benefits for Veteran Spouses and Dependents

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Published August 6, 2021 

 

If you’re a widow, widower, or dependent of a veteran who has passed away, figuring out veteran’s survivor and death benefits can be extremely confusing and cumbersome. Navigating this strange world of benefits can seem near impossible during times of grief. Even if your loved one passed away some time ago, navigating your surviving spouse benefits can bring up painful memories on top of being complicated. Luckily, there are ways to prepare yourself and make the process a bit easier.

VA survivor benefits apply to many spouses and dependents, but the rules of coverage may vary. Whether or not you’re able to use survivor benefits to access substance abuse treatment depends on the plan.

Table of Contents

What Are Veteran Survivor Benefits?

Eligible veterans can receive healthcare and other benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). These benefits are commonly referred to as VA benefits. In most cases, VA benefits can also extend in some capacity to spouses and dependents of an eligible veteran. If a veteran passes away, their spouses and dependents may be able to continue receiving VA benefits. This is what VA survivor benefits offer to spouses and dependents who’ve lost their loved one.

According to the VA, spouses or dependent children of veterans may qualify for health care, life insurance, and educational benefits through the VA.1 You may also be eligible to receive burial and memorial benefits to offset the cost of saying goodbye to your veteran.

Learn more about some of the survivor benefits you may be eligible to receive below:

  • Health benefits — Many family members of a deceased veteran will be able to continue receiving health care benefits through the VA. You may be able to qualify for the CHAMPVA program, TRICARE, or other health care benefits, depending on your veteran’s status. Generally, you can use these benefits to receive care for a mental health or substance use disorder. Click here to learn more.2
  • Life insurance benefits — Veterans are eligible to apply for life insurance through the Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) plan. Surviving spouses can explore their coverage options, manage an existing policy, and collect beneficiary benefits here.3
  • Survivors pension benefits — Surviving spouses and unmarried dependents who meet certain Congress-appointed income and net worth limits may be eligible to receive monthly payments from the VA Survivors pension fund. Click here to see if you’re eligible to receive such benefits.4
  • VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) — If you are a surviving spouse, dependent child, or parent of a veteran who died in the line of duty or from a service-related injury or illness, you may be eligible to receive a tax-free monetary benefit. Click here to find out whether you’re eligible.5

These are just a few of the benefits that are afforded to eligible surviving spouses and dependent children of deceased veterans. And depending on your health plan, some of these benefits can be used to help you receive care for a mental health or substance use disorder.

Is Drug Rehab Covered by Veteran Survivor Benefits?

The type of health care plan you hold will determine whether drug rehab is covered by your VA survivor benefits. Eligibility and the breadth of coverage may vary. It’s important to work with a VA representative to secure the appropriate coverage for you and your family.

  • TRICARE coverage: TRICARE insurance is a government-run healthcare program that provides comprehensive coverage to all beneficiaries and dependents.6 Benefits include healthcare, dental, and prescription coverage as well as specialized programs. Surviving spouses of deceased veterans, Reservists, National Guard members, or Medal of Honor recipients may be eligible to enroll in a TRICARE plan.2 (TRICARE) A variety of plans is available, all of which provide coverage for mental health disorders or substance use disorders (including drug rehab) in some capacity. Such coverage is mandated under the Affordable Care Act. Click here to see if you’re eligible.7
  • CHAMPVA coverage: If you’re not eligible to receive health care coverage through a TRICARE plan, and you’re the surviving spouse or child of a veteran who died in the line of duty, you may be eligible to receive health coverage—including drug rehab coverage—through the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA). Click here to see whether you’re eligible for CHAMPVA.8

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Veteran Survivor Benefit Eligibility and Healthcare

Healthcare benefits for surviving spouses and dependent children will vary according to the plan for which they qualify. In some cases, eligibility may depend on your veteran’s status before they passed away. It may also depend on your children’s age or whether or not the veteran’s spouse remarries.

All of these factors are unique to your specific situation. It’s highly recommended that you contact the VA and discuss what options are available to you. VA representatives will be able to help you access your survivor benefit eligibility and secure coverage that works for you and any other dependents of the deceased veteran.

Can I Lose Veteran Survivor and VA Benefits from Substance Abuse?

The VA may deny disability benefits for living veterans who are found to be engaging in willful misconduct, which may include substance abuse that is not related to a service-related injury or illness.9 If the veteran dies due to such misconduct, the VA may also deny survivor benefits for eligible spouses and dependents. It will be up to the VA to prove misconduct.

At this time, it’s unclear whether a surviving spouse or dependent child may lose benefits due to their own willful misconduct. It’s important to note that coverage for treatment for a mental health disorder or substance use disorder is a mandated benefit under the Affordable Care Act. That means insurers cannot discriminate against or refuse coverage to individuals who need such treatments.

VA Disability Benefits for Surviving Family

When a veteran passes away, their disability benefits do not typically go to surviving family members automatically. However, surviving spouses and dependent children may be eligible to receive VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). Surviving spouses, dependent children, and parents of a veteran who died in the line of duty or from a service-related injury or illness may be eligible to receive a tax-free monetary benefit.5

How Long Do Veteran Survivor Benefits Last?

The length of survivor benefits depends on the type of benefit. Eligible spouses or children are typically eligible to receive health care benefits until they’re married, remarried, reach a certain age, or exceed income limitations. In some cases, they may be able to select a different type of healthcare plan. Other survivor benefits, like educational assistance, are extended for 10 years following the veteran’s death.10

How Long Does it Take to Get Survivor Benefits?

You may need to submit a claim to start receiving survivor benefits. If you were already covered under TRICARE or another health plan, you may not need to submit an additional application. Depending on the benefit you’re trying to claim, it may take 30 to 60 days following the submission of a claim for you to start receiving benefits. It’s often best to reach out the VA for more information about which benefits require and application and for instructions on how to file a claim.11

Are Survivor Benefits Taxable?

Monetary survivor benefits, including pension and DIC payments, are tax-free for surviving spouses and dependent children.12 This means that they do not need to pay taxes on such benefits. Be sure to confirm this tax-free status with a VA representative or tax professional.

Sources

  1. Veterans Affairs. (2020). VA benefits for spouses, dependents, survivors, and family caregivers.
  2. Veterans Affairs. (2020). Health care for spouses, dependents, and family caregivers.
  3. Veterans Affairs. (2021). VA Life insurance.
  4. Veterans Affairs. (2021). VA Survivors Pension.
  5. Veterans Affairs. (2021). About VA DIC for spouses, dependents, and parents.
  6. About Us.
  7. (2021). Eligibility.
  8. Veterans Affairs. (2020). CHAMPVA benefits.
  9. Veterans Affairs. (1999). VAOPGCPREC 7-99 – Veterans Affairs.
  10. Veterans Affairs. (2015). Chapter 13 Dependents and Survivors Benefits.
  11. Veterans Affairs. (2021). I am a Dependent or Survivor.
  12. Gov. Survivors Pension.