Losing a loved one is never easy, and the federal government realizes that the families of Veterans are often asked to make great sacrifices for their country. When a Veteran dies as a result of a service-related injury or illness, their family members can receive Survivor Dependency & Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits to ease the financial strain they may be experiencing.
How Suicide Affects Survivor Dependency & Indemnity Benefits
Surviving spouses and/or minor children of Veterans who die as the result of a service-connected disability are entitled to DIC benefits from the VA. When a Veteran’s parents are considered low-income, they may also be eligible for DIC benefits.
In some cases, qualifying dependents can receive these tax-free benefits even if the Veteran never filed to receive a service connection. For example, a Veteran who dies from any of the conditions on the presumptive disability list for Agent Orange exposure is assumed to have had a service-connected disability. Therefore, even if they didn’t file for disability benefits while living, their dependents are entitled to DIC compensation.
When a Veteran commits suicide, spouses and/or children may be entitled to DIC benefits if the Veteran was service-connected for a mental health condition such as depression or PTSD. They may also be entitled to DIC benefits if they can prove that the Veteran’s cause of death was service-connected, which means the Veteran should have been service-connected for the mental disorder that led to suicide.
The Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) 38, 3.302 (3) states, “It is a constant requirement for favorable action that the precipitating mental unsoundness be service-connected.” This rule may seem unnecessarily harsh, but it is in place to prevent the VA from being held liable for deaths caused by circumstances that have nothing to do with a Veteran’s active-duty service.
Do You Need Help Accessing DIC Benefits?
Even if your loved one was receiving VA disability benefits for a mental health condition before their suicide, you are not automatically entitled to DIC benefits. If there is evidence suggesting a motive for suicide that is not related to their mental illness, such as being diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer, the VA may deny the application.