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 are only entitled to DIC benefits if the Veteran had received a service connection for a mental health condition such as depression or PTSD. If the Veteran was not receiving VA disability benefits for mental health reasons at the time of their death, the surviving family members cannot receive DIC benefits.
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.