What Veterans Should Know About Veteran Benefits-Survivors Benefits

A veteran’s compensation benefits end at the death of the veteran. A surviving spouse does not continue to receive the veteran’s benefits. However, the law creates a separate Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (“DIC”) benefit that dependent spouses, minor children, children up to age 23 who are in school, and, in some cases, parents can claim after the death of a veteran. Each DIC claim is its own original claim for VA benefits that is legally independent of the veteran’s award.

The key issue in a DIC claim is usually whether the veteran’s death was service-connected. Generally, if the principal cause or one of the contributory causes of a veteran’s death was a service-connected condition, an eligible survivor is entitled to DIC. DIC can be awarded even if the condition was not service connected at the time of death or even if the veteran never filed a claim with VA, if service-connection can be established by existing evidence. A DIC claim can be filed at any time, even decades after the veteran’s death, but if it is filed within one year of the veteran’s death compensation will start from the date of death rather than the date of the application.

DIC is paid to a surviving spouse of a qualifying veteran who died from a service-connected disability.  38 U.S.C. § 1310; Dyment v. West, 13 Vet. App. 141, 144 (1999), aff’d sub nom. Dyment v. Principi, 287 F.3d 1377 (Fed. Cir. 2002); Hanna v. Brown, 6 Vet. App. 507, 510 (1994)Darby v. Brown, 10 Vet. App. 243, 245 (1997).  A veteran’s death will be considered service connected where a service-connected disability was either the principal or a contributory cause of death.  38 C.F.R. § 3.312(a).  A service-connected disability is the principal cause of death when that disability, “singly or jointly with some other condition, was the immediate or underlying cause of death or was etiologically related thereto.”  38 C.F.R. § 3.312(b).  To be a contributory cause of death, the disability must have “contributed substantially or materially” to death, “combined to cause death,” or “aided or lent assistance to the production of death.”  38 C.F.R. § 3.312(c)(1).  The Board’s determination of whether a veteran’s death was service connected is a finding of fact that the Court reviews under the “clearly erroneous” standard.  38 U.S.C. § 7261(a)(4); Wray v. Brown, 7 Vet. App. 488, 492 (1995).

A “surviving spouse” is defined as a person of the opposite sex who was the spouse of a veteran at the time of the veteran’s death, and who lived with the veteran continuously from the date of marriage to the date of the veteran’s death (except where there was a separation which was due to the misconduct of, or procured by, the veteran without the fault of the spouse) and who has not remarried or (in cases not involving remarriage) has not since the death of the veteran, and after September 19, 1962, lived with another person and held himself or herself out openly to the public to be the spouse of such other person.  38 U.S.C. § 101(3); see also 38 C.F.R. § 3.50(b).  However, no compensation shall be paid to a surviving spouse unless the surviving spouse was married to the veteran:

(1)   before expiration of fifteen years after the termination of the period of service in which the injury or disease causing the death of the veteran was incurred or aggravated; or

(2)   for one year or more; or

(3)   for any period of time if a child was born of the marriage, or was born to them before the marriage.

38 U.S.C. §§ 1102, 1304, 1541(f); 38 C.F.R. § 3.54(c).

In determining whether a claimant is the veteran’s “surviving spouse” for purposes of VA benefits, the validity of the marriage depends on “the law of the place where the parties resided at the time of the marriage or the law of the place where the parties resided when the right to benefits accrued.”  38 U.S.C. § 103(c); see also 38 C.F.R. § 3.1(j).  A claimant “has the burden to come forward with preponderating evidence of a valid marriage under the laws of the appropriate jurisdiction.”  Aguilar v. Derwinski, 2 Vet. App. 21, 23 (1991); see also Sandoval v. Brown, 7 Vet. App. 7, 9 (1994) (stating that “before applying for benefits, a veteran’s spouse must supply proof of her or his marital status” to achieve claimant status); 38 C.F.R. § 3.205 (providing for a number of ways that a spouse can prove marital status).  The validity of a divorce decree regular on its face will only be questioned by VA if such validity is questioned by a party.  38 C.F.R. § 3.206(a).  The Board’s determination regarding whether a person is a surviving spouse of a deceased veteran is a question of fact that the Court reviews under the “clearly erroneous” standard.  38 U.S.C. § 7261(a)(4); Dedicatoria v. Brown, 8 Vet. App. 441, 443 (1995).

Where a DIC claimant submits evidence that an attempted marriage was invalid because of a legal impediment, such as the nonrecognition of common law marriages, see VA Gen. Coun. Prec. 58-91 (June 17, 1991), the marriage will still be “deemed valid” if:

(1)   the marriage occurred one year or more before the veteran died or if a child was born of the marriage;

(2)   the claimant entered into the marriage without knowledge of the legal impediment;

(3)   the claimant cohabitated with the veteran continuously from the date of marriage to the date of death; and

(4)   no claim has been filed by a legal surviving spouse who has been found to be entitled to death benefits.

38 U.S.C. § 103(a); 38 C.F.R. § 3.52.  “The determination of a claimant’s knowledge of a legal impediment is viewed in terms of ‘what the appellant’s state of mind was at the time that the invalid marriage was contracted.'”  See Lamour v. Peake, 544 F.3d 1317, 1323 (Fed. Cir. 2008) (quoting Dedicatoria, 8 Vet. App. at 444).  In VA General Counsel Opinion 58-91, the Secretary stated that “the lack of knowledge requirement must have a broader meaning, encompassing lack of knowledge of the law prohibiting marriage, not just ‘knowledge of the factual ground which activated the law.'”  VA Gen. Coun. Prec. 58–91 (June 17, 1991).

The surviving spouse of a deceased veteran is entitled to dependency and indemnity compensation benefits (DIC) when the veteran’s death was not the result of his or her own willful misconduct and the veteran “was in receipt of or entitled to receive . . . compensation at the time of death for a service-connected disability rated totally disabling if . . . the disability was continuously rated totally disabling for a period of 10 or more years immediately preceding death . . . .”  38 U.S.C. § 1318(b)(1); see also 38 C.F.R. § 3.22(a).  A surviving spouse is also entitled to dependency and indemnity compensation benefits where the deceased veteran had a disability that “was continuously rated totally disabling for a period of not less than five years from the date of such veteran’s discharge or release from active duty” or where “the veteran was a former prisoner of war who died after September 30, 1999, and the disability was continuously rated totally disabling for a period of not less than one year immediately preceding death.”  38 U.S.C. §§ 1318(b)(2)-(3); 38 C.F.R. § 3.22(a) (2).

As described above, a key to a spouse’s eligibility for benefits after the death of a veteran is that the spouse was married to the veteran at the time of death.  If a surviving spouse remarries after the death of a spouse, the issue of eligibility for benefits becomes complicated.  If a remarriage has ended, the spouse is eligible for DIC.  If still remarried, eligibility depends on when the spouse reached age 57, when the remarriage occurred, and whether a claim was pending on a certain date.  This is a complicated area and VetFirst urges surviving spouses who have remarried to contact an experienced service officer or attorney to determine eligibility for their specific situation.

 The child of a deceased veteran is entitled to DIC when the veteran dies as the result of service-connected disabilities.  38 U.S.C. §§ 1313, 1314.  For purposes of determining eligibility for this benefit, a child must be unmarried and must

(1)   be under the age of 18,

(2)   have become permanently incapable of self-support before the age of 18, or

(3)   be between the ages of 18 and 23 and pursuing a course of instruction at an approved educational institution.

38 U.S.C. § 101(4)(A); 38 C.F.R. §§ 3.356, 3.57(a)(1).  Further, section 3.356 provides that the question of a child’s permanent incapacity is one of fact for determination by VA, and that it will be decided on the basis of whether the child is “permanently incapable of self-support through his own efforts by reason of physical or mental defect” at the date of attaining the age of 18 years.  38 C.F.R. §§ 3.356(a), (b); Dobson v. Brown, 4 Vet. App. 443, 445 (1993).  The Board’s determination of permanent incapacity for self-support is a finding of fact that the Court reviews under the “clearly erroneous” standard of review.  38 U.S.C. § 7261(a)(4); 38 C.F.R. § 3.356(b); see also Gilbert v. Derwinski, 1 Vet. App. 49, 53 (1990).

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency


What Veterans Must Know About VA Life Insurance Programs

Over the years the VA has offered a number of different life insurance plans.  Some of these plans are still open for enrollment while others are closed to new enrollees.

For details of the VA Life Insurance Program refer to VetsFirst Knowledge Book VA Life Insurance,.

As a general rule if you have questions regarding VA life insurance you should visit the VA’s insurance website at www.insurance.va.gov or call VA’s Insurance Center toll-free at 1-800-669-8477.  Specialists are usually available between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m., Eastern Time, to discuss premium payments, insurance dividends, address changes, policy loans, naming beneficiaries and reporting the death of the insured.

When contacting the VA regarding an insurance matter if the insurance policy number is not known, use whatever information is available, such as the veteran’s VA file number, date of birth, Social Security number, military serial number or military service branch and dates of service to:

Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office and Insurance Center

Box 42954

Philadelphia, PA 19101

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

Specially Adapted Housing and Special Home Adaptation Grants: Special VA Benefits for the Disabled Service Connected Vets

The VA offers 4 different grants for qualifying Veterans and Servicemembers to assist them with the building, remodeling, or purchasing an adapted home.   The four grants are:

  1. Specially adapted housing (SAH) grants, 
  2. Special housing adaptation (SHA) grants,
  3. Temporary Residence Adaptation (TRA) grants, and
  4. Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grants.

1. Specially adapted housing (SAH) grants help veterans with certain service-connected disabilities live independently in a barrier-free environment.  SAH grants can be used to:

  • Construct a specially adapted home on land to be acquired
  • Build a home on land already owned if it is suitable for specially adapted housing
  • Remodel an existing home if it can be made suitable for specially adapted housing
  • Apply the grant against the unpaid principal mortgage balance of an adapted home already acquired without the assistance of a VA grant.

A SAH grant, which allows up to $81,080 (2018), can be used a maximum of three times up to the allowable dollar amount.  Veterans with certain permanent service-connected conditions qualify for an SAH grant if their service-connected conditions:

  • Are permanently and totally disabling,
  • Preclude locomotion without the aid of braces, canes, or a wheelchair due to the loss, or loss of use of
    • both lower extremities,
    • one lower extremity together with residuals of organic disease or injury, which so affects the functions of balance or propulsion, or
    • one lower extremity, together with one upper extremity, which so affects the functions of balance or propulsion
  • Result in the loss, or loss of use, of both upper extremities at or above the elbow, or
  • Cause blindness in both eyes, having light perception only, combined with the loss or loss of use of one lower extremity.
  • Include certain severe burn injuries

Veterans who served on or after September 11, 2001, and become permanently disabled on or after that date may also be eligible for SAH benefits if they have the loss or loss of use of one or more lower extremities which so affects the functions of balance or propulsion as to preclude ambulating without the aid of braces, crutches, canes, or a wheelchair.

To apply for a SAH grant, fill out and submit VA Form 26-4555 Application in Acquiring Specially Adapted Housing or Special Home Adaptation Grant.

2. Special housing adaptation (SHA) grants help veterans with certain service-connected disabilities adapt or purchase a home to accommodate their disability.  SHA grants can be used in the following ways:

  • Adapt an existing home the veteran or a family member already owns in which the veteran resides
  • Adapt a home the veteran or family member intends to purchase in which the veteran will live
  • Help a veteran purchase a home already adapted in which the veteran will live

SHA provides for a grant amount up to $116,217 (2018).  A SHA grant may also be used a maximum of up to three times until the maximum grant amount has been utilized.  A SHA grant will be awarded where the veteran has a service-connected disability for one of the following:

  • Blindness in both eyes with 5/200 visual acuity or less
  • Anatomical loss or loss of use of both hands
  • Certain severe burn injuries
  • Certain severe respiratory injuries

To apply for a SHA grant, fill out and submit VA Form 26-4555 Application in Acquiring Specially Adapted Housing or Special Home Adaptation Grant.

3. Temporary Residence Adaptation grants

May be available to SAH/SHA eligible veterans and Servicemembers who are or will be temporarily residing in a home owned by a family member.  This assistance, up to $35,593 (2018) for veterans eligible for a SAH grant or $6,355 (2018) for veterans eligible for the SHA grant, may be used to adapt the family member’s home to meet the veteran’s or Servicemember’s special needs at that time.

4. Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grants

The VA Home Improvement and Structural Alteration (HISA) grant program helps veterans who are enrolled in the VA health care system and requires home improvements for the continuation of medical treatment or for basic access to the home and essential bathroom and sanitary facilities for veterans with certain disabilities.  Unlike most other benefits shown on this page, HISA grants are available for both service-connected and nonservice-connected veterans (with different maximum amounts).

  • Veterans with service-connected disabilities the home improvement benefit is $6,800 (2018)
  • Veterans with non-service-connected disabilities the home home improvement benefit is $2,000 (2018)

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

Clothing Allowance: Special VA Benefits for the Disabled Service Connected Vets

Clothing allowance is an annual lump-sum payment made when a Veteran’s service-connected disability causes the use of certain prosthetic or orthopedic appliances (including a wheelchair) that tend to wear or tear clothing, or when the Veteran’s service-connected skin condition requires the use of medication that stains the clothing. Eligible Veterans can receive a one-time or yearly allowance for reimbursement.

You may receive a clothing allowance as a Veteran who uses either of the following:

  • Prosthetic or orthopedic appliance, such as a wheelchair or crutches, because of a service-connected disability (Note: soft and flexible devices, such as an elastic stocking, are not included)
  • Medication prescribed by a physician for a service-connected skin condition that causes permanent stains or otherwise damages outer garments

Additional clothing allowances may be provided if more than one prosthetic or orthopedic appliance, or medication described above, is used and/or affects more than one type of clothing garment.

Note: An ancillary benefit is an additional benefit that is related to, or derived from entitlement to certain service-connected benefits.

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

What is Special VA Benefits for the Disabled Service Connected Vets: Automobiles, Conveyances, and Adaptive Equipment

Special VA Benefits for the Disabled Service Connected Vets: Automobiles, Conveyances, and Adaptive Equipment

Automobile Allowance

Servicemembers and Veterans may be eligible for a one-time payment of not more than $21,058.69 (10/1/2018) toward the purchase of an automobile or other conveyance if you have certain service-connected disabilities. The grant is paid directly to the seller of the automobile and the Servicemember or Veteran may only receive the automobile grant once in his/her lifetime.

Certain Servicemembers and Veterans may also be eligible for adaptive equipment. Adaptive equipment includes, but is not limited to, power steering, power brakes, power windows, power seats, and special equipment necessary to assist the eligible person into and out of the vehicle.

VA may provide financial assistance in purchasing adaptive equipment more than once. This benefit is payable to either the seller or the Veteran or Servicemember.

Important: You must have prior VA approval before purchasing an automobile or adaptive equipment.

Eligibility Requirements (Automobile Grant)

  • You must be either a Servicemember who is still on active duty or a Veteran, AND
  • You must have one of the following disabilities that are either rated as service-connected or treated as if service-connected under 38 U.S.C 1151 or, for a Servicemember, the result of disease incurred or injury contracted in or aggravated by active duty:
    • Loss, or permanent loss of use, of one or both feet, OR
    • Loss, or permanent loss of use, of one or both hands, OR
    • Permanent impairment of vision in both eyes to a certain degree, OR
    • Severe burn injury, OR
    • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

Evidence Requirements (Automobile Grant)

To support a claim for automobile allowance, the evidence must show that you are service-connected or are treated as if service-connected under 38 U.S.C 1151 or, for a Servicemember, the result of disease incurred or injury contracted in or aggravated by active duty, for a disability resulting in:

  • The loss, or permanent loss of use, of one or both feet, OR
  • The loss, or permanent loss of use, of one or both hands,OR
  • Permanent impairment of vision in both eyes, resulting in
    1. Central Visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with glasses, OR
    2. Central Visual acuity that is greater than 20/200, if there is a visual field defect in which your peripheral field has contracted to such an extent that the widest diameter of visual fields subtends an angular distance no greater than 20 degrees in the better eye, OR
  • Severe burn injury: Deep partial thickness or full thickness burns resulting in scar formation that cause contractures and limit motion of one or more extremities or the trunk and preclude the effective operation of an automobile, OR
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

To support a claim for adaptive equipment, the evidence must show that you have a disability as shown above, OR you have ankylosis of at least one knee or one hip due to service-connected disability.

How to Apply (Automobile Grant)

  • Complete, VA Form 21-4502, “Application for Automobile or Other Conveyance and Adaptive Equipment” and mail to your regional office OR
  • Work with an accredited representative or agent OR
  • Go to a VA regional office and have a VA employee assist you. You can find your regional office on our Facility Locator page
  • If you are entitled to adaptive equipment only (i.e., service connected for ankylosis of knees or hips) you should complete VA Form 10-1394, “Application for Adaptive Equipment – Motor Vehicle” and submit it to your local VA medical center. You can find your local VA medical center on the health Facility Locator page.


You may purchase a new or used automobile, truck, station wagon, or certain other types of conveyance if approved by VA.

Adaptive Equipment

A veteran or servicemember who qualifies for the vehicle allowance also qualifies for adaptive equipment unless he or she is blind, requires a driver, or doesn’t have a valid State driver’s license or learner’s permit. See the attached list for more information about adaptive equipment. Important: VA will not pay for the purchase of add-on adaptive equipment (equipment furnished by someone other than the automobile manufacturer) that is not approved by VA. Contact the nearest VA health care facility for more information on add-on equipment. The adaptive equipment benefit may be paid more than once, and it may be paid to either the seller or the veteran or servicemember.

Special drivers training for disabled veterans should contact the nearest VA health care facility to request this training.

To Apply use VA form 21-4502, http://www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-4502-ARE.pdf.  There is no time limit for filing a claim; however, the claim must be authorized by VA before you purchase the automobile or conveyance.

Special Instructions to Veteran or Servicemember,

1. Complete all items of Section I in duplicate and submit both copies to VA. If you have previously applied for disability compensation, send the form to the VA regional office where your claims folder is located. If you have not applied for disability compensation or have not separated from military service, send the form to the nearest VA regional office.

2. VA will determine your eligibility and, if eligibility exists, VA will complete Section II and return the form to you.

3. Purchase a vehicle. When you receive the vehicle and the adaptive equipment from the seller, complete Section III.

4. Give the original VA Form 21-4502 to the seller.

5. Submit any invoices for adaptive equipment and/or installation not included on the seller’s invoice to the nearest VA health care facility. These invoices, identified with your full name and VA file number, must show the itemized net cost of any adaptive equipment and installation charges, any unpaid balance, and the make, year and model of the vehicle to which the equipment is added.

Special Instructions to Seller:

1. Make sure that Section II of VA Form 21-4502 is completed and signed by VA.

2. Deliver the vehicle, including VA-approved adaptive equipment provided and/or installed by the seller.

3. Obtain the original copy of VA Form 21-4502 from the veteran or servicemember after he or she has completed Section III.

4. Submit the original copy of VA Form 21-4502 and itemized invoice to the VA regional office shown in Section II, Attention: Financial Division, for payment.

The itemized invoice must include the following:

  • The net cost of any approved adaptive equipment and installation charges. If certain items of approved adaptive equipment (automatic transmission, power seats,     etc.) are included in the purchase price, also submit a copy of the window sticker.
  • A list of which adaptive equipment is standard on the vehicle or combined with other items.
  • The unpaid balance due on the vehicle which is to be paid by VA.
  • A certification that the amounts billed do not exceed the usual and customary cost for the purchase and installation of the adaptive equipment.

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

What Military Veterans Should Know About VA Education Benefits

VA offers a number of educational benefits to veterans and, in some cases, to a veteran’s spouse and dependents. Educational benefits programs include the Montgomery GI Bill (“New GI Bill”), Post-9/11 Educational Assistance Program, Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP), Reserve Education Assistance Program (REAP), Survivors & Dependents Assistance (DEA), Educational Test Program, National Call to Service Program, and Veterans Retraining Assistance Program. Each program has different eligibility requirements, eligibility periods, and time limits for completing the educational programs. A person receiving benefits from one VA educational program cannot receive benefits from any other VA educational benefits program.

Each program requires a claim for the benefit desired to begin the process using VA Form 22-1990 [link]. As all of these programs often have very specific requirements, any potential claimant should carefully review each program in detail to identify the benefits for which they may be eligible and the best program for their individual needs. The two most commonly sought programs are briefly described below.

Benefits under the Montgomery GI Bill are generally available for those who went on active duty after June 30, 1985. In some cases, Selected Reserve and National Guard members may also be eligible. In all cases, there are minimum service periods of from 2 to 4 years depending on the specific circumstances of service. Under this program, which is also known as “Chapter 30” benefits, educational benefits are available for up to 36 months. Payments are for a fixed amount depending on whether the educational program is full- or part-time.

Eligible veterans must have received an honorable discharge (not just “other than dishonorable”). Before applying, a claimant must also have (1) obtained a high school diploma or equivalent or (2) completed the equivalent of 12 credit hours in a college degree program. Involuntarily separated veterans may also qualify under certain conditions.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill became effective August 1, 2009, and provides financial support for education and housing to individuals with at least 90 days of aggregate service after September 10, 2001, and individuals discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days of service. A veteran must have received an honorable discharge to be eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, which are also known as “Chapter 33” benefits. Approved training under this program includes undergraduate and graduate degrees, vocational and technical training, licensing, and national testing. To receive benefits, the particular training program attended must be approved by VA.

In general, the Post 9-11 GI Bill program pays full tuition directly to the school for all public school in-state students. There are some restrictions and caps for those attending private or foreign schools. The program will also pay a limited monthly housing allowance, books and supplies stipend, and a one-time rural benefit, if applicable. The Chapter 33 program provides up to 36 months of benefits and benefits are generally payable for up to 15 years following release from active duty.

An individual entitled to either Chapter 30 or Chapter 33 benefits may transfer an entitlement to educational assistance to: (1) a spouse; (2) a child; or (3) a combination of spouse and child. The family member must otherwise be eligible for benefits at the time of transfer to receive transferred educational benefits. Applications should be submitted using VA Form 22-5490 [link].

38 U.S.C. Chapter 35 provides educational assistance to “eligible persons,” including “children whose education would otherwise be impeded or interrupted by reason of disability or death of a parent from a disease or injury incurred or aggravated in the Armed Forces.”  38 U.S.C. § 3500.  For purposes of DEA benefits under chapter 35, “eligible person” means a child of a person who, as a result of qualifying service, died of a service-connected disability or has a total disability permanent in nature resulting from a service-connected disability, or who dies while a disability so evaluated was in existence.  38 U.S.C. § 3501(A)(1)(a).

In general, an eligible child’s period of eligibility for educational assistance under chapter 35 ends on his or her 26th birthday.  38 U.S.C. § 3512(a); 38 C.F.R. § 21.3041(a), (b), although there are some exceptions.  38 C.F.R. § 21.3041(g).  The general rule is that the commencing date of an original award of educational assistance is the latest of:  (a) the date the educational institution certifies the course; (b) one year before the date of receipt of the claim; or (c) the effective date of the approval of the course, or one year before VA receives approval notice, whichever is later.  38 U.S.C. § 3672; 38 C.F.R. § 21.4131(a).  When determining the effective date of an award under Chapter 35 the Secretary may consider the individual’s application as having been filed on the eligibility date of the individual if that eligibility date is more than one year before the date of the initial rating decision.  38 U.S.C. § 5113(b).

Pursuant to 38 U.S.C. section 5113(b)(2) the criteria for an earlier effective date under this statute requires that the claimant is an eligible person who:

(A) submits to the Secretary an original application for educational assistance under Chapter 35 of this title . . . within one year of the date that the Secretary makes the rating decision;

(B)   claims such educational assistance for pursuit of an approved program of education during a period preceding the one-year period ending on the date on which the application was received by the Secretary; and

(C)   would have been entitled to such educational assistance for such course pursuit if the individual had submitted such application on the individual’s eligibility date.

Forever GI Bill – Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act

The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, also known as the “Forever GI Bill,” will bring significant changes to Veterans education benefits over the coming years. Most changes enhance or expand education benefits for Veterans, servicemembers, families, and survivors. View our breakdown of the updated benefits.


Contact Us

  • Join the conversation on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.
  • Our Education Call Center is available at 1-888-442-4551 (Monday – Friday, 7 a.m. – 6 p.m. CST) for any questions about GI Bill benefits.
  • Take advantage of your local Veterans Service Officer to help you navigate the new information.

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

What Veterans Must Know About VA Burial and Memorial Benefits

VA burial benefits are available for service-connected and non-service-connected deaths. Eligibility for non-service-connected burial expenses generally requires receipt of VA compensation, VA pension, or military retired pay in lieu of compensation at the time of death, a claim pending at the time of death that is later determined to have entitled the deceased veteran to compensation or pension before death, death while hospitalized or receiving care in a VA facility, or the veteran’s estate does not have enough resources to cover costs and the veteran served during wartime or was released from active duty due to a service-connected condition. A veteran who dies while under VA care or in a VA-approved state nursing home is also eligible.

Benefits for a non-service-connected death are $300 for funeral and burial expenses (if not hospitalized by VA at time of death) and up to $762 for plot or internment expenses (if not buried in a National Cemetery). If the veteran was hospitalized by VA at the time of death, VA will pay up to $762 toward the burial and funeral expenses for deaths on or after October 1, 2017.  An application for burial expenses must submitted within 2 years of burial.

Burial benefits for service-connected deaths include a burial allowance of up to $2,000 for deaths on or after September 11, 2001. There is no time limit for applying for this allowance. No other amounts will be paid if this allowance is claimed.  If requested by VA, supporting documentation must be provided within a year of the request. There is no time limit for submitting an application for plot or internment expenses.

An important benefit is burial in a grave-site in one of the 131 National Cemeteries with available space. If eligible, this benefit includes opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a government-provided headstone or marker, a burial flag, and a Presidential Memorial Certificate at no cost to the family. The principal criteria for a veteran’s burial in a National Cemetery are an other than dishonorable discharge and completion of a required period of service or entitlement to retired pay due to 20 years of service with a reserve unit. A spouse, minor child, or unmarried dependent adult child of an eligible veteran is also eligible for burial in a National Cemetery.

Grave-sites in VA National Cemeteries cannot be reserved in advance and VA national cemetery directors have the primary responsibility for verifying eligibility for burial in a National Cemetery. A determination of eligibility is usually made in response to a request for burial. A VA Regional Office can also assist in determining eligibility.

Burial benefits available for spouses and dependents buried in a National Cemetery include burial with the veteran, perpetual care, and the spouse or dependents name and date of birth and death inscribed on the veteran’s headstone, at no cost to the family. Eligible spouses and dependents may be buried in a National Cemetery, even if they predecease the veteran.

Families should keep in mind that VA does not make funeral arrangements or perform cremations. VA also does not provide military honors at veterans’ funerals. The Department of Defense, through the “Honoring Those Who Served” program, provides military funeral services. Upon a family’s request or at the behest of the funeral home on behalf of a family, the program provides each eligible veteran a military funeral honors ceremony to include the folding and the presentation of the United States burial flag and the playing of Taps.

Burial benefits available for veterans buried in a private cemetery include:

  • a government-provided headstone or marker,
  • a burial flag, and
  • Presidential Memorial Certificate, at no cost to the family.
  • Some veterans may also be eligible for a burial allowance.

There are no VA benefits available to spouses and dependents buried in a private cemetery. Similarly, only an eligible veteran may receive a government-furnished headstone or marker for placement in a private cemetery. A veteran’s spouse and dependent children are not eligible.

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

What is the Eligibility Verification Report for Non-Service Connected Pension

Pension recipients are required to file annual reports detailing their income status. The reports are called Eligibility Verification Reports (EVRs).

If the VA has requested an “EVR report” it must be completed, returned, and received by the VA within 60 days. Failure to return the EVR within the 60 days will result in the VA will suspending the pension benefit and denying the claim for the upcoming year.

It is important not to leave any blanks on the report. Instead of leaving a blank, enter either zero “0” or, the word “none” or, “N/A” on all answers that do not apply. If you leave a blank on the EVR report the VA will reject the report and suspend all benefits.

Another issue with the “EVR report” is with Social Security benefit reporting.   The SSI, (Supplemental Security Income), benefit is not considered “countable income”.   SSDI, (Social Security Disability Income), and Social Security Old Age Pension must be reported accurately to the VA. Any discrepancy in reporting SSDI or SS Old Age Pension can cause VA pension over payments and negative adjustments to the your pension benefit.

The Veteran’s EVR documented Social Security or Social Disability income amount must match the amount documented by Social Security. It is easy for Veterans to have a reporting error. Veterans mistakenly report the actual amount of their Social Security check instead of reporting their full Social Security benefit which includes the Medicare monthly deductibles for Part B Premium at $104.90 and other premiums, if the Veteran selected Premiums for Parts C and D.   Premium amounts for Part C and D vary by the plan. To avoid reporting errors, the Veteran and Spouse should refer to their annual report from the Social Security Administration and document the information correctly onto the EVR report.

If the Social Security Administration report is not available, the Veteran and/or Spouse can call and request the report from Social Security.   Social Security can be contacted at 1-800-772-1213. Social Security representatives are available between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. If you have hearing problems you can call 1-800-325-0778, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

How VA Evaluates Income for Non-Service Connected Pension

Countable Income for Non-Service Connected Pension

To determine the income limit requirement for eligibility, the VA will require the Veteran to report all “countable income” for the Veteran’s household.

Countable income” refers to all household income:

  • the Veteran’s,
  • Veteran’s spouse (if living with the Veteran), and
  • Dependents.

The Veteran’s “countable income” must be below the maximum annual pension rate, MAPR, and the Veteran’s “net worth” must not provide adequate maintenance of the Veteran.

The need for pension is determined by “countable income” minus allowable deductions. The calculated reduced income is then subtracted from MAPR limit and the result is the annualized pension divided by 12 months.

As an example:

  • The MAPR for a Veteran who needs aid and attendance with no dependents is $21,531 income per year.
  • The Veteran’s countable income is $32,000 per year.
  • After subtracting the allowable deductions, the countable income of the Veteran is reduced to $15,000/year.
  • The MAPR of $21,531 minus $15,000 of countable income equals $6,531 per year of VA Pension.
  • The $6,531 yearly VA Pension is divided by 12 months to determine the monthly amount.
  • The Veteran receives a VA pension for $544.25 monthly for this example.

Allowable Deductions from Countable Income for VA Pension

The Veterans “countable income” is reduced by specific expenses. However, often Veterans believe that they are not eligible for pension because they make too much or are denied because they do not know the complete list of income exclusions and deductible expenses that would reduce their “countable income”.

The complete list of income exclusions is provided in 3.272 of title 38, Code of Federal Regulations. This knowledge is important because most Veterans mistakenly think that the only income deduction is unreimbursed medical expenses over 5% of the Veteran’s household income. When in fact there are many deductions and when the Veteran uses all of the deductions that apply to their situation, the outcome is greater.

Another mistake that Veterans make is reporting income that is excluded from income reporting on the pension application.       Not knowing the rules or what information to supply can cause a VA denial!

All income received from the following exclusions are not considered countable income by the VA. Veterans should make sure that when applying for pension, all deductions are applied and only income not excluded is counted. The list includes 22 income sources that are excluded from reporting and are found in Title 38 CFR 3.272:

  1. Welfare,
  2. Maintenance in an institution or facility due to age or impaired health,
  3. VA pension benefits ( Payments under Chapter 15 of Title 38 and including accrued pension benefits payable under 38 U.S.C. 5121),
  4. Reimbursement for casualty loss,
  5. Profit from the sale of property,
  6. Joint accounts,
  7. Unreimbursed medical expenses that are 5% of the MARP,
  8. Veteran’s final expenses,
  9. Educational expenses for Veteran or Spouse,
  10. Domestic Volunteer Service Act Programs,
  11. Distribution of funds under 38. U.S.C 1718,
  12. DOD survivor benefit annuity,
  13. Agent Orange settlement payments,
  14. Restitution to individuals of Japanese ancestry,
  15. Cash surrender value of life insurance,
  16. Income received by American Indian beneficiaries from trust or restricted lands,
  17. Payments from the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act,
  18. Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act,
  19. Monetary allowance under 38 U.S.C. chapter 18, Victims of Crime Act,
  20. Healthcare premiums to include Medicare, (make sure to include all insurance premiums paid for all 4 Parts of Medicare-A,B,C,D and Supplemental plans),
  21. Medicare prescription drug discount card and transitional assistance program, and
  22. Lump-sum life insurance proceeds on a veteran.

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency

What Veterans Must Know About Special Rules For Certain Claims

Special Rules For Certain Claims

Congress, and in some cases VA, has recognized that some conditions resulting from service are so widespread or unique that they require special procedures. Two of the most common of these conditions, herbicide exposure in Vietnam Era veterans and undiagnosed or multisymptom illnesses in Persian Gulf War veterans, are described below.

Herbicide-Exposed Veterans

Congress has established a “presumption” of exposure to herbicides, most infamously including “Agent Orange,” for veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam during the period from January 9, 1962, to May 7, 1975. A presumption is a legal term that means that VA has to assume a fact unless there is evidence against the fact. For Vietnam veterans this means that evidence of actual exposure Agent Orange is not required – those veterans is presumed to have been exposed to Agent Orange – if they meet the requirements for the presumption.

For claimants, this means that if a veteran can show he or she was in Vietnam during the specific period and currently has a medical condition listed in VA regulations as being caused by Agent Orange which began within the listed time periods, VA must service connect that condition. Conditions that are presumptively service-connected for herbicide exposure include chloracne, Type 2 diabetes (also know as Type II diabetes mellitus or adult-onset diabetes), Hodgkin’s disease, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, B cell leukemia, Parkinson’s disease, and ischemic heart disease. Other presumptive conditions are listed, so a Vietnam veteran with a health condition should review the entire list. [link to CFR]

Just who is eligible for the herbicide presumption has been the topic of extensive debate and litigation. As it currently stands, having earned a Vietnam Service Medal is not enough to obtain the presumption. A veteran must show that he or she put “boots on the ground” in Vietnam or have been a “brown water” (inland waters) sailor to qualify. A single layover or shore leave is enough to receive the presumption. In addition, some veterans with service in Korea are also eligible for the presumption. For veterans with service in Thailand the key to claims for exposure are military duties that took the veteran out to and alongside the perimeter of bases where defoliants were acknowledged to have been used. Such duties include dog handling, security, and some maintenance activities.

Many veterans have challenged this definition, especially “blue water” (open ocean) sailors and Air Force ground support personnel who believe that they were exposed to Agent Orange or other herbicides during service. VA, backed by the courts, will not apply the presumption unless they have evidence of “boots on the ground” from these veterans.  Air Force members and reservist who served

On June 19th, 2015 the Federal Register published that Air Force Servicemembers and Air Force Reservists who served during the period of 1969 through 1986 and whose service required that they regularly and repeatedly operate, maintain, or serve onboard C-123 aircraft that was exposed to Agent Orange are now eligible for VA disability compensation for presumptive conditions due to Agent Orange Exposure.

In addition, any veteran who believes that he or she was exposed to a herbicide can file a claim and attempt to show actual herbicide exposure. This can be done by providing evidence of actual exposure, such as photographs showing Agent Orange barrels. In addition, veterans who served in other locations, such as Guam, have occasionally been able to show actual exposure although the government does not officially acknowledge Agent Orange was stored or used in those locations.

A unique aspect of Agent Orange claims is the possible retroactive assignment of effective dates. A series of court orders in the class-action litigation in Nehmer v. United States Department of Veterans Affairs, requires VA in certain cases to make an award effective on the date of the claimant’s application or the date of a previously-denied application, even if such date is earlier than the effective date of the regulation establishing the presumption. In other words, the Nehmer case created an exception to the rules for calculating effective dates and requires VA to assign retroactive effective dates for certain awards of disability compensation and DIC.

Another result of the Nehmer case is that if an individual was entitled to retroactive benefits as a result of the court orders but died prior to receiving such payment, VA must pay the entire amount of the retroactive payments to the veteran’s estate, regardless of any statutory limits on payment of benefits following a veteran’s death. Veterans and surviving spouses, dependent children, and dependent parents of veterans with service in Vietnam who previously filed claims for conditions associated with herbicide exposure should carefully review current VA regulations to determine if they are eligible for retroactive benefits.

Polytraumatic Injuries Requiring Specialized Rehab

Recent combat has resulted in new patterns of polytraumatic injuries and disability requiring specialized intensive rehabilitation processes and coordination of care throughout the course of recovery and rehabilitation. While serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), military service members are sustaining multiple severe injuries as a result of explosions and blasts. Improvised explosive devices, blasts, landmines, and fragments account for 65 percent of combat injuries (see subpar. 17a). Congress recognized this newly emerging pattern of military injuries with the passage of Public Law 108-422, Section 302, and Public Law 108-447.

Combat injuries are often the result of a blast. Blasts cause injuries through multiple mechanisms. Severe blasts can result in total body disruptions and death to those closest to the blast site or they can result in burns and inhalation injuries. Blast injuries typically are divided into four categories: primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary or miscellaneous injuries.

1. Primary Blast Injuries. Primary blast injuries are caused by overpressure to gas- containing organ systems, with most frequent injury to the lung, bowel, and inner ear (tympanic membrane rupture). These exposures may result in traumatic limb or partial limb amputation.

2. Secondary Blast Injuries. Secondary blast injuries occur via fragments and other missiles, which can cause head injuries and soft tissue trauma.

3. Tertiary Blast injuries. Tertiary Blast injuries result from displacement of the whole body by combinedpressure loads (shock wave and dynamic overpressure).

4. Miscellaneous Blast-related Injuries. These are miscellaneous blast-related injuries such as burns and crush injuries from collapsed structures and displaced heavy objects. Soft tissue injuries, fractures, and amputations are common.

Animal models of blast injury have demonstrated damaged brain tissue and consequent cognitive deficits. Indeed, the limited data available suggests that brain injuries are a common occurrence fromblast injuries and often go undiagnosed and untreated as attention is focused on more “visible” injuries. A significant number of casualties sustain emotional shock and may develop PTSD. Individuals may sustain multiple injuries from one or more of these mechanisms. Explosions can produce unique patterns of injury seldom seen outside combat.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Classification of Blast Injuries

Auditory or Vestibular
Tympanic membrane rupture, ossicular disruption, cochlear damage, foreign body, hearing loss, distorted hearing, tinnitus, earache, dizziness, sensitivity to noise.

Eye, Orbit or Face
Perforated globe, foreign body, air embolism, fractures.

Blast lung, hemothorax, pneumothorax, pulmonary contusion and hemorrhage, atrioventricular fistula (source of air embolism), airway epithelial damage, aspiration pneumonitis, sepsis.

Bowel perforation, hemorrhage, ruptured liver or spleen, mesenteric ischemia from air embolism, sepsis, peritoneal irritation, rectal bleeding.

Cardiac contusion, myocardial infarction from air embolism, shock, vasovagal hypotension, peripheral vascular injury, air embolism-induced injury.

Central Nervous System
Concussion, closed or open brain injury, petechial hemorrhage, edema, stroke, small blood vessel rupture, spinal cord injury, air embolism- induced injury, hypoxia or anoxia, diffuse axonal injury.

Renal and/or Urinary Tract
Renal contusion, laceration, acute renal failure due to rhabdomyolysis, hypotension, hypovolemia.

Traumatic amputation, fractures, crush injuries, burns, cuts, lacerations, infections, acute arterial occlusion, air embolism-induced injury.

Soft Tissue
Crush injuries, burns, infections, slow healing wounds.

Emotional or Psychological
Acute stress reactions, PTSD, survivor guilt, post-concussion syndrome, depression, generalized anxiety disorder.

Acute pain from wounds, crush injuries, or traumatic amputations; chronic pain syndromes.

Recognizing the specialized clinical care needs of individuals sustaining multiple severe injuries, VA has established four PRCs. The PRC mission is to provide comprehensive inpatient rehabilitation services for individuals with complex physical, cognitive and mental health sequelae of severe and disabling trauma, to provide medical and surgical support for ongoing and/or new conditions, and to provide support to their families. Intensive clinical and social work case management services are essential to coordinate the complex components of care for polytrauma patients and their families. Coordination of rehabilitation services must occur seamlessly as the patient moves from acute hospitalization through acute rehabilitation and ultimately back to the patient’s home community. Transition to the home community may include a transfer from a PRC to a less acute facility.

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs designated five PRCs, co-located with TBI Lead Centers, at VA Medical Centers in Richmond, VA; Tampa, FL; Minneapolis, MN; San Antonio, TX, and Palo Alto, CA (see App. A). It is VHA policy that the PRCs provide a full-range of care for all patients eligible for VA care, who have sustained varied patterns of severe and disabling injuries including, but not limited to: TBI, amputation, visual and hearing impairment, spinal cord injury (SCI), musculoskeletal injuries, wounds, and psychological trauma. Due to the medical complexity of these patients, PRCs must be prepared to admit individuals who may have a higher level of medical acuity and require interdisciplinary management by various medical specialists. The general admission criteria to the PRC include:

1.The individual with polytrauma is an eligible veteran or an active duty military service member; and
2.The individual has sustained multiple physical, cognitive, and/or emotional impairments secondary to trauma; and
3.The individual has the potential to benefit from inpatient rehabilitation; or
4.The individual has the potential to benefit from a transitional community re-entry program; or
5.The individual requires an initial comprehensive rehabilitation evaluation and care plan.

It is recommended that all patients experiencing a polytraumatic injury be referred to a VA PRC. The PRC team has specialized expertise to determine the most appropriate setting for care. If the patient does not require admission to a PRC, the team can assist with coordination of care at the most appropriate facility. Referral to a PRC also ensures that the patient and family are integrated into the VA system of care with the appropriate rehabilitation services. NOTE: The SCI Chief for the applicable region needs to be contacted by the PRC admissions clinical case manager to consult on the transfer of patients with a diagnosis of TBI and SCI.

Referrals to the PRC must be given the highest priority and the screening process needs to be expedited to ensure that there are no delays in transferring a patient to the Center. The PRC must accept admissions on a 24/7 basis. To establish the medical needs and acuity of the patient, there is a need to review medical documentation, consult with the referring treatment provider, and coordinate a plan for transfer.

Referral of service members with polytrauma to a PRC is initiated by DOD, typically by the MTF social worker or case manager, or other DOD representative. Where assigned, the VA- DOD liaison social worker is actively involved in the referral process, facilitating communications, information exchange, transition of care, and family support. The PRC’s admissions clinical case manager coordinates the referral and screening process for the accepting VA PRC. NOTE: For those referral sources that do not have VA-DOD liaisons, admission screening is to be coordinated between the PRC admission clinical case manager and the MTF.

Points of Contact
VA Polytrauma Points of Contact are available at 39 VAMCs without specialized rehabilitation teams. These Points of Contact, established in 2007, are knowledgeable about the VA Polytrauma/TBI System of care and coordinate case management and referrals throughout the system and may provide a more limited range of rehabilitation services. See a full list of Polytrauma Points of Contact in the attached PDF.


Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is now included in a new chapter in DSM-5 on Trauma and Stressor Related Disorders.   In  the DSM-IV PTSD was addressed as an Anxiety disorder.

The diagnostic criteria for the manual’s next edition identify the trigger to PTSD as exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation. The exposure must result from one or more of the following scenarios, in which the individual:

  • – directly experiences the traumatic event;
  • – witnesses the traumatic event in person;
  • – learns that the traumatic event occurred to a close family member or close friend (with the actual or threatened death being either violent or accidental); or
  • – experiences first-hand repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event (not through media, pictures, television or movies unless work-related).

The disturbance, regardless of its trigger, causes clinically significant distress or impairment in the individual’s social interactions, capacity to work or other important areas of functioning. It is not the physiological result of another medical condition, medication, drugs or alcohol.


DSM-5 pays more attention to the behavioral symptoms that accompany PTSD and proposes 4 distinct diagnostic clusters instead of 3.  They are described as re-experiencing, avoidance, negative cognitions and mood and arousal.

Re-experiencing covers spontaneous memories of the traumatic event, recurrent dreams related to it, flashbacks or other intense or prolonged psychological distress. Avoidance refers to distressing memories, thoughts, feelings or external reminders of the event.

Negative cognitions and mood represents myriad feelings, from a persistent and distorted sense of blame of self or others, to estrangement from others or markedly diminished interest in activities, to an inability to remember key aspects of the event.

Finally, arousal is marked by aggressive, reckless or self-destructive behavior, sleep disturbances, hyper-vigilance or related problems. The current manual emphasizes the “flight” aspect associated with PTSD; the criteria of DSM-5 also account for the “fight” reaction often seen.

The number of symptoms that must be identified depends on the cluster. DSM-5 would only require that a disturbance continue for more than a month and would eliminate the distinction between acute and chronic phases of PTSD.

PTSD Debate within the Military

Certain military leaders, both active and retired, believe the word “disorder” makes many soldiers who are experiencing PTSD symptoms reluctant to ask for help. They have urged a change to rename the disorder posttraumatic stress injury, a description that they say is more in line with the language of troops and would reduce stigma.

But others believe it is the military environment that needs to change, not the name of the disorder, so that mental health care is more accessible and soldiers are encouraged to seek it in a timely fashion. Some attendees at the 2012 APA Annual Meeting, where this was discussed in a session, also questioned whether injury is too imprecise a word for a medical diagnosis.

In DSM-5, PTSD will continue to be identified as a disorder.

For A Complete Guide To VA Disability Claims and to find out more about your potential VA disability case and how to obtain favorable VA Rating Decision! Visit: VA-Claims.org

For Cases & Decisions that Could Save Your VA Service-Connected Claims! Visit: VAClaims.org ~ A Non-Profit Non Governmental Agency