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A Legacy of Honor: How Veteran’s Spouses Can Access Vital Benefits

One of the questions we have received in email on many occasions is what a veteran’s wife would be eligible for when the veteran passes away. The simple and unhelpful answer is ‘it depends’. Today we will break down the different benefits available and look at the requirements for each one.

Losing a loved one is a tragedy, and navigating the complex world of benefits available to survivors can be overwhelming. For veterans, their spouses often face additional challenges during this difficult time. This is why one of the things we suggest veterans do is build a book of things needed for their spouse so that, when the time comes, all they have to do is grab the book (3 ring binder) and go to the closest Veteran Service Officer (VSO) for help. You can download The Next Step pamphlet and the NWAVet preparation checklist from the links to the right (or below).

Cover of Next Steps brochure
The Next Steps
Preparation Checklist
Preparation Checklist

Preparing the Surviving Spouse

We always suggest veterans and families seek the assistance of a VSO when filing claims with the VA, but at no time is this more helpful than at the death of a veteran. There may be several different forms which need to be filled out. VSOs deal with these forms on a continual basis and are your best support and help during a most difficult time.

There are two different types of benefits that a spouse may be eligible to receive. The first are one-time benefits that are meant to reimburse the spouse for expenses surrounding the death of the veteran. The amount received will depend upon the circumstances of the veterans passing, the location, as well as where they have been laid to rest. 

Overview of Benefits Available to Spouses

Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) is a monthly payment provided to eligible surviving spouses of veterans who died due to a service-related injury or illness, or who died while on active duty. To be eligible, the surviving spouse must have been married to the veteran at the time of death and must meet certain requirements. The two requirements that most people key on are the requirement for the veteran to have passed away from a service-connected condition, or for them to have been 100% disabled for at least 10 years. However, there are several more requirements, which can be found on the VA DIC website. 

Survivor’s Pension: Offers a monthly stipend to surviving spouses who are not eligible for DICVA-recognized Pensions, either veteran’s or survivor’s, have requirements also. The main two requirements are that the veteran served for at least a certain length of time with at least one day of their service during a VA recognized Wartime Period. If the veteran joined the service before September 7, 1980, they had to have served at least 90 days with at least one day during a wartime period. If they joined after September 7, 1980, they had to serve at least 24 months with at least one day during a wartime period.

Wartime Periods
  • Mexican Border period (May 9, 1916, to April 5, 1917, for Veterans who served in Mexico, on its borders, or in adjacent waters)
  • World War I (April 6, 1917, to November 11, 1918)
  • World War II (December 7, 1941, to December 31, 1946)
  • Korean conflict (June 27, 1950, to January 31, 1955)
  • Vietnam War era for Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam (November 1, 1955, to May 7, 1975)
  • Vietnam War era for Veterans who served outside the Republic of Vietnam (August 5, 1964, to May 7, 1975)
  • Gulf War (August 2, 1990, through a future date to be set by law or presidential proclamation)

The other major requirement for receiving a pension is that the spouse’s yearly income must be under a certain threshold. The VA publishes this threshold amount each year as the Maximum Allowed Pension Rate (MAPR).

Applying for a pension is probably the most labor intensive and confusing process of all of the benefits from the VA. If you are planning to apply for a survivor’s pension, we strongly suggest you contact your local VSO for assistance. And remember, if you are awarded a pension, you must manage your pension on a yearly basis.

Education and Training Benefits: If you are the spouse or dependent of a veteran who has service connected disabilities, you may be eligible for Dependents Education Assistance (DEA).

If you are a surviving spouse or dependent of a veteran who died of service-connected disabilities after 9/11, you may be eligible for the Fry Scholarship.

While there is a list of requirements for both of these benefits, the major ones are whether the veteran has a 100% Permanent and Total rating OR if the veteran passed away from service-connected disabilities. If you are eligible for both benefits, you will have to choose one. You can find more information on the VA website, or call the VA GI Bill hotline (yes, they can answer questions about these two benefits). The hotline number is 1-888-442-4551.

Home Loan Guarantees: Guarantees a VA-backed loan for eligible surviving spouses. The key word in this is eligible, because not everyone will be eligible. The major piece is that the veteran passed from a service-connected disability, but there are several possibilities that could make you eligible as a surviving spouse. You can find them on the VA website, or call the VA helpline at 1-800-827-1000.

Health Care Benefits: Grants access to VA healthcare services for eligible survivors. There are several health care programs through the VA, including Tricare and ChampVA. Each of them come with their own requirements and criteria. You can look on the VBA website, or if you need assistance talk to a local VSO, a local VA medical clinic or hospital, or call the VA helpline.
We hope and pray that this answers some of your questions about the benefits surviving spouses may be eligible to receive. If you have any questions, you can drop them below or email us at And remember, your local VSO is always ready and willing to answer any benefits question you may have.

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