Families struggling with the loss of a service member should be able to focus on their emotional well-being and healing without having to worry about financial concerns. To assist family members during their time of grief, both the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs offer various financial benefits associated with a service member’s death. These include Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Parent(s) Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, Non-service Connected Death Pension and Death Gratuity. The amount of DIC, Parent(s) DIC and the Non-service Connected Death Pension vary depending on a variety of factors, while the Death Gratuity benefit is set at a fixed amount. Each of these benefits has different eligibility requirements, but generally, most surviving spouses qualify for DIC and the Death Gratuity. Parent(s) DIC and the Death Pension are both need-based benefits and require that the beneficiary’s income not exceed a specified amount to be eligible.
Dependency and Indemnity Compensation
Paid for by the Department of Veterans Affairs, DIC is a monthly tax-free benefit paid to eligible surviving spouses and dependent children of a service member who died on active duty, a veteran who died from service-related disabilities, and certain veterans who were being paid 100 percent VA disability compensation at time of death. Benefits from DIC are not automatic. Family members must apply to receive them through the VA.
The amount of the benefit varies depending on factors such as the date of the service member's death (before or after Jan. 1, 1993), the service member’s rank, whether there are potential additional allowances (disability, Aid and Attendance, housebound, etc.), and the number of dependent children. For current DIC rates, see the VA's DIC Rate Tables.
DIC payments may be payable to surviving spouses of deceased service members (if they remain unmarried), as well as unmarried children under age 18 (or 23 if the child is attending school). Spouses must meet one of the following requirements:
- Validly married the veteran before Jan. 1, 1957
- Was married to a service member who died on active duty
- Married the veteran within 15 years of discharge from the period of military service in which the disease or injury, which caused the veteran's death, began or was aggravated
- Was married to the veteran for at least one year
- Had a child with the veteran, and cohabited with the veteran continuously until the veteran's death, or if separated, was not at fault for the separation and is not currently remarried (Surviving spouses who remarry on or after Dec. 16, 2003, and on or after attaining age 57 are still entitled to receive DIC.)
Surviving children are eligible to receive DIC if they meet all of the following requirements:
- They are not included on the surviving spouse's DIC.
- They are unmarried.
- They are under the age of 18 or between the ages of 18 and 23 and attending school.
- Certain helpless adult children are also entitled to DIC; please contact the VA to determine eligibility.
Parent(s) DIC is a tax-free, income-based, monthly benefit for biological, adoptive or foster parents of a service member or veteran who died from a disease or injury incurred or aggravated while on active duty for training, an injury incurred or aggravated in the line of duty while on inactive duty for training, or a service-connected disability. In addition to this requirement, surviving parents are only eligible for the Parent(s) DIC benefit if their countable income is below a set amount.
Three classification categories exist for determining the amount of this benefit: sole surviving parent not living with a spouse, one of two parents not living with a spouse, and one of two parents living with a spouse or other parent. These categories determine which benefit schedule is used when determining the amount of Parent(s) DIC. As with the spouse benefit, this benefit can be increased with a demonstrated need for A&A. More information on eligibility requirements and the income cut off for Parent(s) DIC, including rate tables, can be found on the VA website.
The Death Gratuity is a lump-sum payment of $100,000, to assist in immediate living expenses, for survivors of service members who die while serving on active duty, active duty for training, inactive duty for training, or within 120 days of release from active duty due to a service-related disability. Families of reservists who die while on or en route to active duty, or those in a "drill status," are also eligible to receive the death gratuity. Death Gratuity payments are not taxable. Death Gratuity is $100,000 regardless of the cause and manner of death of the service member.
The Death Gratuity will be paid to beneficiaries designated on the military member's Record of Emergency Data. However, the law requires that the payment be made to a current spouse or dependent regardless of whether another individual was designated on the RED. If more than one current dependent of equal status exists, the amount will be split in equal shares to each beneficiary.
By law, only certain family members are eligible to receive the death gratuity, in the following order of precedence: the surviving spouse; children (in equal share if there is no surviving spouse); and parents, people acting as parents, brothers or sisters (in any combination if designated by the service member).
More information on the Death Gratuity benefit can be provided by the casualty assistance officer.
Non-service Connected Death Pension
This is a benefit payable to eligible surviving spouses and children of deceased wartime veterans based on financial need. In addition to the countable income restriction, survivors of deceased service members may be eligible to receive the death pension if the veteran had wartime service, and the death was not due to service. If surviving family members meet eligibility requirements for the Death Pension and the DIC, the VA will pay whichever benefit entitles the family to the most money. Surviving family members cannot collect both DIC and the Death Pension.
The amount of the Death Pension benefit depends on the income level of the surviving spouse or child. Income limits establish the maximum income a surviving spouse or child can earn and still qualify for the benefit. For a surviving spouse or child with an annual income below the established limit, the VA will pay the difference between the limit and the surviving spouse's or child's income. This difference is generally paid to the beneficiary in 12 equal monthly payments rounded to the nearest dollar. For more information on the Death Pension, see the VA's Survivor Benefits page.