If you look at the list of VA Benefits that the VA says are available to the spouses and surviving children of service-connected veterans, you will see a good long list of possible benefits that the VA has available.
However, there is one missing - "accrued benefits".
The VA defines "accrued benefits" in the instructions to VA Form 21-534 as a claim for "any money the VA owes the veteran but did not pay prior to his/her death.
Typically, a Veteran's spouse or eligible surviving child will file the VA Form 21-534, which is a simultaneous application for many other survivor benefits from the VA.
What the VA does not tell spouses and eligible surviving children is that this includes compensation that the VA should have paid to the Veteran for a pending VA Disability Claim, but did not.
Generally speaking, if a Veteran has a VA disability compensation claim pending, the Veteran's spouse or surviving child is entitled to any "accrued benefits" from that claim.
In other words, even though a Veteran's claim technically dies with the Veteran, in some situations, the surviving spouse and/or eligible surviving child may be able to take up the claim in their own right.
However, even though a Veteran's claim for compensation for a service-connected disability technically dies with the Veteran, the spouse or eligible surviving child may be entitled to recover those benefits to which the Veteran would have been entitled if he had lived.
Here are the three (3) basic elements of an accrued benefits claim:
1) A claim must be filed within the year after the Veteran's death. A claim for any benefit using VA Form 21-534 is considered a claim for "accrued benefits". Also, a claim for Social Security survivor benefits is considered a claim for Survivor Benefits through the VA, even if you only sent the application to the Social Security Administration.
2) The Veteran must have a "pending claim". The definition of "pending claim" can be very broad or narrow, depending on the unique fact situation that you are in, and it is best that you contact an attorney familiar with "accrued benefits" claims from the VA to determine if your spouse had a "pending claim" at the time of his/her death.
3) Based on the evidence in the record at the time of the Veteran's death, the Veteran was entitled to monthly disability compensation for a service-connected illness or condition or disease.If the Veteran would have provided that evidence to prevail in his or claim but for a failure in the VA's Duty to Assist, then it is possible that an "accrued benefits" claim can be reopened for submission of additional evidence.
If you think you are entitled to Accrued Benefits - and most surviving spouses may well be eligible - there is no substitute for legal advice from a VA accredited Veterans Benefits Attorney.
The VA will fight you tooth and nail.
Veterans - here are 5 things you can do NOW to protect your surviving spouse and dependents in the event you pass away while your claim is pending.
Chris Attig, an Accredited Veterans Benefits attorney and Founder of the Attig Law Firm, PLLC is responsible for the content of the site. The principal office of Attig Law Firm, PLLC, is located in Dallas, Texas. Chris Attig is NOT Certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. - Please view our website disclaimer.
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